By The Denver Post
Requiring people to show photo identification before voting isn’t discrimination in and of itself. That’s not just our contention, that was also the belief of liberal stalwart John Paul Stevens, a U.S. Supreme Court justice who wrote the majority opinion in a 2008 Indiana voter ID case.
With 2012 being an election year, we realize the topic has become infused with politics. The hue and cry over the Justice Department’s recent decision to block South Carolina’s voter ID law is ample proof of that.
But we also think the ways in which such laws are carried out, the caveats and allowances for provisional ballots, make all the difference.
Here’s a for-instance: If states are going to require that voters have state-issued photo IDs, they had better make sure they have enough government offices, hours and staff – particularly in poorer areas where transportation options are limited – to ensure getting an ID is a reasonable task. For those who can’t afford the fee, the ID should be provided free.
States should have ways of voting provisionally that allow people to prove who they are with alternative documents. We also think they should allow voters to use other photo IDs deemed reasonably secure, such as those issued by in-state universities or the military.
These are the sorts of details, we think, that make the difference.
These are not, however, the finer points being hashed out in a rational way. The upcoming presidential election has boiled down the debate to something like this: The Democrats are fighting voter ID laws so they can steal the election. Republicans are trying to keep eligible voters from the poll so their guy will win.
It’s discouraging, but it’s a debate that we’re going to have as the Justice Department makes good on its pledge to take on states that have passed aggressive voter ID laws.
Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department must clear voting law changes in certain parts of the country where there is history of discrimination. In blocking South Carolina’s new law, the Justice Department exercised this power for the first time since 1994.
The contention is the South Carolina law disproportionately affects minorities. The unspoken part is that those voters frequently align with Democratic causes.
The Justice maneuver sets up a conflict, we think, between a portion of the Voting Rights Act and the 2008 Supreme Court decision. In that case, Justice Stevens dismissed concerns that Indiana’s voter ID law would favor Republicans over Democrats.
The statute, Stevens wrote, is “amply justified” by the state’s interest in protecting electoral integrity.
Presenting a photo ID is routine in many parts of our lives, such as when we cash a check or get on a plane. There’s no good reason it can’t be the norm when we cast ballots.
The Denver Post