Below is a video of Mitt Romney answering a woman's question about the Justice Department's challenge to a voter id statute in South Carolina. He asks the well-heeled crowd if there is anyone over 18 who does not have a photo id, and of course no hands go up. How much of a burden can it be then, to ask for such a simple little thing to be allowed to vote? You can't drive or get on a plane without a photo id. Why should you be allowed to vote? There is a sub-text here, suggesting that anyone who can't be bothered to comply with such a trivial little requirement probably doesn't even deserve to vote, but that is not stated. What is stated is the need to prevent people from voting multiple times. How can we not take action to prevent such abuses?
Practically every word Romney says about voter id laws in this video is false. It is false to suggest that this issue is just a matter of opinion between people of Romney's views and people of Eric Holder's views. It is not. It is a legal issue. It is false to claim as Romney does that picture ids can easily be obtained for free at the polling place. Romney pulls that idea right out of his hat. It is false to argue that photo id laws are needed to prevent people from voting multiple times. That is a non-existent problem in this country. And it is false to assert that photo id laws will not trouble anyone, because it has been documented that they have the effect of discouraging significant numbers of eligible voters from casting a ballot.
Here are some of the legal issues that candidates like Mitt Romney are deliberately ignoring: Eric Holder is under an obligation to enforce the Federal Voting Rights Act. States that are subject to the pre-clearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act--i.e., those states that for literally hundreds of years engaged in systematically preventing black people from voting--must submit proposed changes in their election procedures to the Justice Department for review to determine whether they might have the effect of disenfranchising minorities. Pursuant to the legal requirements of the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department last week rejected South Carolina's newly-enacted voter id law, based on evidence that minority voters are 20% more likely to lack a photo id than white voters. Thus, the voter id requirement will likely have the effect of hindering voters who are legally entitled to cast a ballot, and this effect will unquestionably fall more heavily on black people than white people.
South Carolina was required to justify these new requirements in order to obtain approval, and it is noteworthy, according to the article linked above, that their submission to the Justice Department failed to include any evidence or examples of fraud that were not already adequately addressed by existing procedures. So Romney is actually saying is that if he were president, he would instruct attorneys at the Justice Department to ignore the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, and approve South Carolina's new restrictions on the ability to vote, even if those restrictions disproportionately affect minority voters, and even if South Carolina is unable to offer any evidence justifying those restrictions. At the very least, he is pre-judging an issue that he knows next to nothing about, and unfairly disparaging Justice Department attorneys who are only trying to enforce the law.
This is a legal issue, but is being treated as a political issue by candidates eager to play on the fears of some segments of the electorate that we are being overrun with voters who are not qualified to vote, or voters attempting to cast multiple ballots. Actual cases of such fraud, despite heroic efforts to find them, are practically non-existent. The real problem we have in this country is not voter fraud. The real problem we have is low voter turnout. The thing we need to be doing is making efforts to encourage a larger percentage of eligible voters to participate; not making it more difficult for eligible voters to cast a ballot.