What Hath The Supreme Court Wrought?

When Indiana passed a voter ID law, it was ostensibly to protect the integrity of the voting process. What better way to prevent voter fraud than to require those participating in an election to produce identification?

Was there any evidence of a voter-fraud scourge in Indiana? No. Would the law make it harder for “certain kinds” of voters (i.e., the elderly, minorities, and the poor) to participate? Yes. Did this look a whole lot like Republican lawmakers trying to discourage likely Democratic voters from taking part in elections? Obviously.

But in a painfully misguided ruling, the Supreme Court approved the Indiana measure anyway. We’re now seeing the predictable result — conservatives who want voter ID laws to help keep Democrats from the polls are ratcheting up their efforts.

The battle over voting rights will expand this week as lawmakers in Missouri are expected to support a proposed constitutional amendment to enable election officials to require proof of citizenship from anyone registering to vote.

The measure would allow far more rigorous demands than the voter ID requirement recently upheld by the Supreme Court, in which voters had to prove their identity with a government-issued card.

Sponsors of the amendment — which requires the approval of voters to go into effect, possibly in an August referendum — say it is part of an effort to prevent illegal immigrants from affecting the political process. Critics say the measure could lead to the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of legal residents who would find it difficult to prove their citizenship.

Similar Republican-led efforts are under consideration in 19 states, but Missouri’s effort is the only one that might take effect before this year’s presidential election.

Robin Carnahan (D), Missouri’s secretary of state, estimates that the measure could disenfranchise up to 240,000 registered voters who would be unable to prove their citizenship. (In 2000 and 2004, the margin of victory in Missouri was less than 200,000 votes, meaning that the GOP voter ID plan could easily make a difference in deciding the winner of the state’s electoral votes.)

Digby concluded:


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This is what the voter-fraud fraud has always been about: making voting such a hassle that a lot of voters will just figure it isn’t worth the trouble or don’t feel like being treated like dirt by officials who suspect them of being criminals on the basis of their ethnicity. I would imagine that there are a whole lot of older people who’ve never had to prove their citizenship in their lives and wouldn’t have a clue about how to go about doing it.

This whittling away at the franchise will be one of the greatest accomplishments of the conservative movement when all is said and done. They simply don’t believe in the democratic concept of one person one vote. Never have.

I’d just add that it’s far from clear that the Supreme Court would go for this. The court majority endorsed the Indiana measure, but it required a photo ID. If someone doesn’t have a driver’s license, they can get a state ID card for free. It’s a huge hassle, especially for elderly people who can’t get around easily or low-income workers who can’t get time off to go to a courthouse, but there were options. (In other states, utility bills, paychecks, and student or military ID cards meet identification requirements.)

Proving U.S. citizenship is tougher, creating a hurdle that’s harder to clear. Missouri voters would likely have to produce an original birth certificate, naturalization papers, or a passport in order to participate in an election, and a whole lot of eligible voters would likely be denied a ballot or decide in advance it’s not worth the trouble. Maybe five justices would sign off on this, maybe not, but it’s not obvious.

Lillie Lewis, a voter who lives in St. Louis and spoke at a news conference last week organized to oppose the amendment, said she already had a difficult time trying to get a photo ID from the state, which asked her for a birth certificate. Ms. Lewis, who was born in Mississippi and said she was 78 years old, said officials of that state sent her a letter stating that they had no record of her birth.

“That’s downright wrong,” Ms. Lewis said. “I have voted in almost all of the presidential races going back I can’t remember how long, but if they tell me I need a passport or birth certificate that’ll be the end of that.”

A 2006 federal rule intended to keep illegal immigrants from receiving Medicaid was widely criticized by state officials for shutting out tens of thousands of United States citizens who were unable to find birth certificates or other documents proving their citizenship.

Is there any evidence at all to suggest non-citizens are voting and influencing U.S. elections? Not at all; that’s not what this is about.

This is a scheme launched by far-right activists who hope to get fewer Democrats to vote. Plain and simple. Republicans have a choice — try to win elections the old fashioned way (by earning the support of voters), or try to shave a few percentage points off the likely vote totals of the other side. They seem to prefer the latter, even if it means proposing a solution to a problem that doesn’t exit.

As Josh Marshall explained a while back, “Remember, the point of voter ID laws is not to eliminate fraud; it is to eliminate Democratic voters.”

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