Published December 28, 2011
A simple question divides the two parties on the process of this election -- should voters have to show a picture ID to cast a ballot?
Republicans say requiring photo identification at the polls is just a matter of common sense. But Democrats warn the move could disenfranchise voters.
"I think this is an effort to diminish minority and poor people's involvement in the electoral policies and politics," said Dick Harpootlian, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party.
But David Norcross, president of the Republican National Lawyers Association, noted that a photo ID is required to enter any federal building and most office buildings, among other things. "You need it to get welfare, you need it to get on an airplane, take the SAT, buy liquor, buy cigarettes. It's sort of ubiquitous," he said. "And it's crazy to exclude voting from the list of things you need it for."
The latest voter ID controversy centers on South Carolina's photo ID law, which the Justice Department blocked on Dec. 23, claiming it will hurt minorities and the poor.
Attorney General Eric Holder exhorted people to oppose such efforts just days before the move.
"Call on our political parties to resist the temptation to suppress certain votes in the hope of attaining electoral success," he told a group at the LBJ Center in Austin, Texas.
An even stricter law in Indiana, however, was upheld years ago by the Supreme Court on a 6-3 vote. So now, 15 states require or plan to require photo IDs.
"The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law and the opinion was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, who as you know is one of the most liberal stalwarts of the Supreme Court," explained Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation.
Several Democratic congressmen, as well as former President Jimmy Carter, have also argued in favor of photo IDs.
Nevertheless, South Carolina Democrats argue their state's law is just too onerous on minorities and the poor.
"They can't get a photo ID because typically you have to have a birth certificate to get an official state ID. Many people don't have the ability to pay the $35 here," Harpootlian said.
A similar law in Georgia, also upheld by the courts, took great pains to avoid such problems.
Rep. Phil Gingrey said the state told people, "Look, we will literally send a van and a photographer to the home of anybody that can say they can't get a picture made and a photo ID and we will do it ... at the state's cost and the taxpayer cost and not at the individual cost."
South Carolina made the same offer to its citizens and went even further to make sure all could vote. If a voter claims to have had a "reasonable impediment" to getting an ID, they can vote anyway.
"When you show up to vote, you fill out an affidavit in which you swear you are who you say you are," said Spakovsky. "And you describe what that reasonable impediment was, and your vote's going to count -- unless local election officials have some evidence that your affidavit is false and that's a very high burden."
Nevertheless, a website of the Democratic National Committee refers to the photo ID push as "GOP tactics" and says: "Photo ID mandates are the most pervasive new restriction on the right to vote. ... They are costly and unnecessary and they disenfranchise voters."
The site goes on to say, "voter fraud is rare."
That is an assertion Republicans ridicule.
"We did a quick study," Norcross said. "In last 10 years, there have been voter fraud convictions in 46 states."
Spakovsky notes that just in April, "a local executive committee member of the NAACP was sentenced to five years in jail for voter fraud in Toneka County, Mississippi."
In any event, states are moving in the direction of voter ID laws, confident the courts will back them up.
In Rhode Island, photo IDs were proposed and approved by Democrats and a Democratic legislature.
Mississippi, with a large African American population, just held a referendum in which 62 percent voted in favor of photo IDs.
And states that have been using them for some time boast an increase in turnout among all groups including minorities.