Rep. John Lewis Displays His Ignorance


Rep. John Lewis Displays His Ignorance

Jun 14, 2012 2 min read
Hans A. von Spakovsky

Election Law Reform Initiative Manager, Senior Legal Fellow

Hans von Spakovsky is an authority on a wide range of issues—including civil rights, civil justice, the First Amendment, immigration.

A sharp reader of PJ Media sent in a copy of a letter he received from Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) about voter ID laws. Lewis was responding to a letter from the reader, in which he had pointed out that—as a naturalized U.S. citizen—he had to provide a lot of biometric ID information to the government. He, the reader, therefore considered it an insult not to require an ID to exercise a right as important as voting.

Lewis’s response reiterates the standard left-wing talking points against voter ID, of course. But it also shows a remarkable ignorance of the details and effect of Georgia’s voter ID law. That law has been upheld in both state and federal court against claims that it was discriminatory and has now been in effect for more than five years.

Lewis claims, for example, that all of the photo ID laws “ban the use of student IDs – even from state universities.” That is absolutely false. Lewis seems unaware that, as I pointed out recently in a Heritage Foundation study, under Georgia’s law, a student ID issued by the Georgia state college system is an acceptable ID for voting.

Lewis also claims that providing such IDs will cost states an enormous amount of money because “millions of American citizens” don’t have an ID. He does not say how much money he thinks is too much to spend for fair and secure elections, but Georgia’s law has certainly not strained the state treasury. Since 2006, the state has issued a grand total of 26,000 free photo IDs to voters who otherwise didn’t already have an acceptable ID. That’s a tiny fraction of the states nearly 6 million registered voters. In 2010, amid some of the most competitive and contested mid-term elections in decades, only 0.046 percent of Georgia’s registered voters applied for a free voter ID!

The Lewis letter also repeats the spurious claim that voter ID laws keep minorities from voting. That certainly didn’t happen in his home state. According to official turnout numbers from the Georgia Secretary of State, in the first election held with the photo ID law in place (2008), turnout of Hispanic and black voters went up 140 percent and 42 percent, respectively, compared to turnout in the previous presidential election. In 2010, Hispanic and black turnout was 66.5 percent and 44.2 percent higher than in the previous (2006) midterm election. And lest you think that the increase was solely because of new, energized electorate first registered by Obama’s campaign, the fact is voter increases were higher in states with voter ID laws than in comparable states in the same elections without them.

In summary, John Lewis has no idea what he is talking about. Rather, he has simply followed the well-worn track taken reflexively by so many liberals, such as former Alabama Congressman Artur Davis.

Several months ago, Davis came to the realization that he had been wrong about voter ID. Writing in the Montgomery Advertiser, he admitted:

“When I was a congressman, I took the path of least resistance on this subject for an African American politician. Without any evidence to back it up, I lapsed into the rhetoric of various partisans and activists who contend that requiring photo identification to vote is a suppression tactic aimed at thwarting black voter participation.”

Perhaps one day, John Lewis will experience the same epiphany that opened the eyes of Artur Davis. Meanwhile, let’s hope his constituents see through his baseless claim that voter ID is an attempt to suppress the vote. After all, the experience of his own state—indeed, his own district—completely explodes that myth.

Hans von Spakovsky is senior legal fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.

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