The Politics of Voter ID

Yesterday the Texas House began hearings on a bill, already passed in the Senate (SB14), that would require voters to present a valid photo ID at the polls.  This legislation would courageously solve a problem that by all rational accounts does not exist.  Along the way some Democrats have expressed concern that it will effectively suppress voting in communities they depend on for turnout.

In reality this proposal is unlikely to have any meaningful affect at all.  So is it worth all the noise?

I’ll confess right off the top that the first time I showed up to vote, young, bright-faced, ignorant, and eager, I had my drivers’ license out ready to show.  I was surprised and a little alarmed that no one wanted to see it.  As time has passed (so much time…) the ability to conduct any of life’s business without an ID has steadily narrowed.

You can’t buy Sudafed anymore without showing your drivers’ license.  Valid ID has evolved into a de facto qualification to participate in the economy.  Perhaps there really is, as some Democrats have suggested, a block of people out there who find obtaining a valid ID a tremendous challenge.  Maybe, just maybe, determining who will lead the free world is not the first project those folks should tackle.

Results from other states suggest that Voter ID will make only a very marginal difference in voter turnout.  There may be people who do not vote either because they are turned away or are intimidated by the requirement.  Is it worth creating this nuisance to solve a fictional problem?

What’s more, those who actually buy into the fantasy that this kind of fraud is influencing elections are in for a fat surprise.  Those hoards of Mexicans who are fraudulently casting votes (for Democrats, of course) by assuming someone else’s identity are, well, let’s just say ‘elusive.’  And the underprivileged folks who Democrats are kvetching about can meet the ID requirements.  It’s not an impressive hurdle.

The group that combines the highest current turnout with the greatest likelihood of being affected is our grandmothers.  They have evolved into a pretty reliable Republican bloc.  If Voter ID has any partisan impact at all, it could bring some surprises.

The greatest impact of Voter ID might be its devastating emotional cost to the far right.  Voter fraud is one of the  favorite complaints of the tin hat brigades at both political extremes.  It’s unfair to rip that warm, cuddly straw-man from our own weirdoes,  leaving them one-down against their enemies on the opposite fringe (who will still have voting machines to blame).

So why do we need Voter ID?  Because we’ve spent so much energy over the years hyping fraud as a factor in elections.  Most of those on the right who think it’s going to make much difference also think Glenn Beck is the only person who tells them the truth.  That’s why it hasn’t been seriously pursued in the past.  But now that we are solidly in charge there is no easy way to shirk this rhetorical obligation.

You will almost certainly need a valid ID to vote in your next election and not much will change.  The Tea Party will once again send people to the Third Ward to watch over the black folk (to protect their rights).  And once again they’ll find nothing more than the trouble they caused.   I predict somehow we will continue to hear about this problem.

Finding voter fraud up to now has required a lot of creativity and this law does nothing to limit imagination.

The whole effort is a waste of time, but a relatively harmless waste of time.  Given the profile of this new Legislature, we should probably all be grateful they are investing their spare energy on this issue, instead of working on something where they could do some real harm.