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A Most Welcome Outcome? Repealing State Voter ID Laws

A Most Welcome  Outcome? Repealing State Voter ID Laws

Wednesday, 14 November 2018 11:52 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Since the U.S. Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act's protection of voting by racial minorities in 2013, legislatures in many states have enacted voter ID laws.

Democrats accuse Republicans of deliberately designing these ID laws so as to exclude voters — largely racial minorities — who are more likely to support Democrats. And indeed it's difficult to examine the details of the recently enacted laws without finding overwhelming support for this claim, whether it be in North Dakota (excluding native Americans) or in southern states (excluding black and Latino people).

The results of several close elections this year might have been different if the excluded citizens had been able to vote.

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, so the actual need for voter ID laws is probably very small. Cost-benefit analysis suggests that any general benefits produced by voter ID laws are heavily outweighed by their administrative costs — not to mention the damage they do to democratic norms — itself a cost.

What can be done to fix the damage the current laws are doing to the equality of citizens before the law? Attempts to get courts to find voter ID laws to be unconstitutional will be met with the argument that this would invite voter fraud.

Although this is a specious argument, perhaps a better litigation strategy will be to accept the legitimacy of voter ID laws but then get courts to impose reasonable conditions that ID laws must meet before they can be enforced.

If any government makes ID cards a requirement for voting, the Constitution clearly requires that the cards be made easily available, and without any charge, to all citizens. In 1964 the Twenty Fourth Amendment was added to the Constitution:

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for president or vice president, for electors for president or vice president, or for senator or representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax."

Any charge for ID cards places a special obstacle in the path of poor people who want to vote, the exact reason why poll taxes were outlawed by the Twenty Fourth Amendment.

And if ID cards are not easily and conveniently available, then the transportation costs, time, and administrative hassle required to obtain the card are also costs heavily weighing on poor people.

An ID card which is difficult to get or for which there is a charge is clearly the equivalent of a poll tax, whether it is called a poll tax or not. A simple and appropriate judicial remedy would be to order states to suspend enforcement of ID requirements until they have complied with the constitutional standards.

The advantage to asking the courts to make ID cards generally available to all citizens is that this would not undermine whatever slight utility ID requirements have in preventing illegal voting.

It goes without saying that the ID cards themselves must not only be free, but that any documentation — such as a birth certificate — required to get them must also be made easily available without charge. Otherwise a government could simply make the ID card itself free but require expensive or tedious documentation before one could be issued.

For citizens who do not have birth certificates available (due to court houses that burned or for other reasons), states should accept alternative documentation.

Of course requiring states to make ID cards available easily and without cost would increase administrative costs borne by taxpayers. But it's more just to spread the costs of an alleged public benefit among all taxpayers rather than concentrating them, as voter ID laws do now, on the poorest segment of the population.

Perhaps some states would decide that the benefits of voter ID laws which comply with the Constitution are not important enough to justify the costs that taxpayers would have to pay.

They might then repeal the ID laws. Given that the legitimate benefits of such laws are extremely small if they exist at all, repeal would be reasonable.

Since the most frequent reason for ID laws is to advantage one political party, and since complying with the conditions imposed by the courts would destroy this advantage, repeal of these unneeded laws would probably be the ultimate and welcome outcome in most states.

Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Since the most frequent reason for ID laws is to advantage one political party, and since complying with the conditions imposed by the courts would destroy this advantage, repeal of these unneeded laws could be welcome outcome in most states.
birth, certificates, courts, democrats, north dakota, taxpayers
Wednesday, 14 November 2018 11:52 AM
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