Identity crisis: Alabama’s voter ID law, not Jim Crow, makes sense

COMMENTARY Election Integrity

Identity crisis: Alabama’s voter ID law, not Jim Crow, makes sense

Oct 20th, 2013 3 min read
Hans A. von Spakovsky

Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow

Hans von Spakovsky is an authority on a wide range of issues – including civil rights, civil justice, the First Amendment, immigration.
Alabama did the right thing,” says Artur Davis. He’s referring to the 2011 passage of the state’s voter ID law.

Davis knows a thing or two about elections. He represented Alabama’s 7th Congressional District. He was also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Davis’ views on voter ID clash with those engaged in racial politics — people like Alabama Rep. Alvin Holmes — who try to convince voters that laws intended to safeguard the integrity of elections are instead bent on keeping minority voters away from the ballot box.

Holmes insists that voter ID will disenfranchise elderly and black voters. In fact, Davis says that just like Alvin Holmes, he used to take “the path of least resistance,” opposing voter ID laws without any evidence to justify that stance and lapsing into “the rhetoric of various partisans and activists who contend that requiring photo identification to vote is a suppression tactic.” But Davis has since accepted the facts. Holmes should, too.

Photo ID is an essential element of everyday life in modern America. People are constantly asked to produce it for purposes ranging from buying a beer to cashing a check, from checking into a hotel to boarding an airplane, from filling a prescription or seeing a doctor to getting a marriage license. If you’re poor, you need to show ID when applying for many forms of public assistance. Getting a photo ID is easy, quick and cheap. That is why polling shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans from all racial, ethnic, economic and political backgrounds agree requiring voter ID is the right thing to do.

Alabama’s new law doesn’t even take effect until the June 2014 primaries. The few Alabamians who don’t already have an ID have plenty of time to obtain one. Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman has worked out a plan that will allow voters to get their free ID either at state Department of Public Safety or local Board of Registrars offices. Georgia has had the exact same process in place for almost eight years now, and has experienced no problems.

And why should there be problems? The new law accepts driver’s licenses, state and federal photo IDs, passports, student IDs, military IDs and tribal IDs, so very few residents will need to take advantage of the free ID program.

America has an unfortunately long history of election fraud. The U.S. Supreme Court recognized that when it upheld Indiana’s voter ID law in 2008. And Alabama has its share in that unfortunate history — including absentee ballot fraud in places like Hale, Perry and Greene counties.

As Davis notes, the victims of such fraud are often African-Americans because the “most aggressive contemporary voter suppression” is “the wholesale manufacture of ballots, at the polls and absentee, in parts of the Black Belt.” That is why Alabama’s legislators were smart when they passed a law that requires voter ID not just for in-person voting, but also for absentee ballots.

Voter ID can prevent impersonation fraud, voting under fictitious voter registrations, double voting and voting by illegal aliens. It can also prevent the kind of assembly-line absentee ballot fraud that occurred in Greene County in the 1990s.

The claim that voter ID is a “suppression tactic” is refuted by actual election results in states like Georgia and Indiana whose ID laws have been in effect since the 2008 elections. In the 2008 and 2010 elections, minority turnout actually increased more dramatically in Georgia and Indiana with voter ID than it did in some states without photo ID. A May report by the Census Bureau on the 2012 election shows that blacks reported voting at higher rates than whites in Georgia and Indiana.

When people can trust the integrity of the election process, they are more likely to participate. And when people see fraud and don’t trust the election process, they are more likely to stay home.

Lawsuits against the Georgia and Indiana voter ID laws were thrown out by the courts because opponents could not find any registered voters who would be prevented from voting. In Georgia, the NAACP could not produce a single person who would be unable to vote because of the ID requirement. A recent check of the witnesses in the Georgia case who claimed the ID would keep them from voting shows they’ve voted in election after election since the law took effect.

It is time for lawmakers in every state to follow Alabama’s example and do the right thing — pass voter ID laws that protect the integrity of that precious right. And it’s time for opponents to stop scaring voters with historically preposterous claims about the return of Jim Crow and voter suppression.

- Hans A. von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

Originally appeared in Tuscaloosa News