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Sunday, May 8, 2011

What’s really behind voter ID legislation?

Telegraph Editorial

Once upon a time, states could get away with discriminatory voting laws. Don’t want poor people to vote? Institute a poll tax.

Thankfully, those tactics were squashed with President Lyndon Johnson’s landmark Voting Rights Act in 1964.

So why in 2011 are some New Hampshire legislators trying to make it more difficult to vote by requiring identification at the polls?

The reason they’re citing – “rampant voter fraud” – is completely unfounded.

We should be wary of enacting any law that makes it more difficult for some people to exercise their right to vote. And until we have some actual proof that voter fraud exists at any measurable level in New Hampshire, let’s call this bill what it is: a solution that is far worse than the problem.

Both the House of Representatives and Senate have passed versions of this voter ID bill (SB 129), which was introduced by Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, and has the strong support of the Republican leadership.

The Senate version isn’t as bad. It allows those without an ID to vote as long as they agree to be photographed.

The House version, on the other hand, gives voters without ID three days after the election to produce one. If they don’t, their ballot doesn’t count.

The elephant in the room is this: Investigations by the secretary of state and the attorney general since 2004 haven’t found any cases of voter fraud.

The one documented instance of fraud in the last decade – a son voting in place of his father – was uncovered under the current system.

The Legislature has no evidence that New Hampshire has a problem with people running around the state voting as someone else.

And just for fun, consider how difficult it would be to sway an election this way. You would have to identify a person in a district other than yours who will not show up to the polls. You could only go to each district once, for fear of being recognized, so you’d have to repeat the process at one polling place after another all day long.

Critics of this measure have questioned its legality, and rightly so. New Hampshire Assistant Attorney General Matthew Mavrogeorge warned that charging potential voters without a driver’s license $10 for an ID could run afoul of the state constitution. A Missouri Supreme Court decision in 2006 likened such a charge to the poll tax that prompted the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawing the practice.

Voting laws in this country were designed to make it as easy as possible to cast a ballot. We shouldn’t create barriers to exercising that right.

If the voter ID bill passes, Secretary of State Bill Gardner has said those without an ID could number 50,000 to 75,000 during a presidential election. Other estimates have placed the figure closer to 1 percent of the voting block, or about 10,000 people.

Either way, we can’t help but wonder: Are some legislators using baseless allegations of fraud to make voting difficult enough that some people won’t even try?