The GOP's Darker Motives


They must be a very neat, organized people, these Republicans. We gather that they carry two forms of identification each at all times and keep their voter registration cards in those nifty little wallets that hang from your neck. In their ordered universe, they apparently think the rest of us are just as punctilious.

Surely that must explain, in a state with some of the lowest voter turnout rates in the nation, the party’s relentless drive to push through as many laws as possible that make it harder for people who don’t carry the proper papers to vote. The alternative explanation is too unappealing-that they are simply bigots and elitists, willing to strip voting rights from poor people, black people, brown people, and people with unmatched socks simply because it suits their political ends.

Such rudeness is hard to imagine. Yet as the end of another legislative session draws near, the majority party is again trying to force through a so-called voter identification bill. It would require people who show up at the polls not just to pony up their registration cards, but also to prove their identities before they can cast a ballot.

The bill, sponsored by Terrell Republican Betty Brown, squeezed through the House on a 76-69 vote. At press time it lingered in the Senate, where similar legislation died in 2005, as backers tried to get around the two-thirds rule and bring it to the floor.

These voter i.d. bills-variations of which have passed in at least five other states-are part of a concerted GOP campaign to restore “integrity” to the voting process. The authors argue that requiring identification will cut down on fraud by keeping illegal immigrants, convicted felons, and the like from insinuating themselves into the voting booth, maybe even tipping close elections.

There’s your first clue that these efforts might be a bit disingenuous. To date, no one’s been able to find any evidence that this problem exists on a scale large enough to be of any concern. Voting fraud takes place, no question, and God knows Texas has spawned its share. (Landslide Lyndon?) But mostly it’s done by manipulating mail-in and absentee ballots, not by imposters showing up at the polls. For its 2006 report on voter fraud, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission interviewed an impressive roster of lawyers, elected officials, and experts. “Many asserted that impersonation of voters is probably the least frequent type of fraud because it is the most likely type of fraud to be discovered,” the commission reported.

Solving this problem that doesn’t exist, however, has some pernicious side effects that happen to benefit Republicans. It makes voting harder for people without driver’s licenses, people without enough money to track down birth certificates, people intimidated by signs that would be posted at polling places warning that voter fraud is a crime. People, in other words, who tend to be poor or minority, and tend to vote Democratic. (Not to mention Democrats, who are just prone to lose things.)

Recent news reports have documented how the Bush administration’s Justice Department used federal law to suppress voter turnout in battleground states as part of a purported effort to root out fraud. State-by-state voter i.d. bills are part and parcel of the party’s effort to win elections by disqualifying voters who might disagree with it.

Even should this latest Texas voter i.d. bill become law, if the 2006-midterm elections were any indication, the GOP’s efforts to clamp down on voter participation won’t save them from electoral defeat.