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Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Solution in Search of a Problem

You've got to love the Republican Party--and by "love," I mean "roll your eyes at the cynical political machinations of."  Unwilling to propose policy addressing the actual problems of our society--foreclosures, mass unemployment, obscene levels of income inequality--the GOP instead goes out of its way to propound solutions to the non-existent problem of "rampant" voter fraud.  Since the 2010 elections, "more than a dozen states have passed laws requiring voters to show photo identification at polls, cutting back early voting periods or imposing new restrictions on voter registration drives" ("New State Rules Raising Hurdles at Voting Booth").  Yesterday, the Justice Department announced that it would challenge one such rule in South Carolina.

In theory, voter-identification laws sound reasonable: In order to safeguard our democracy, we should embrace legislation that seeks to ensure that only those eligible to vote are allowed to vote.  Voter ID laws, therefore, make sure that fraudulent voters cannot sway an election.  But, as many have pointed out, there is no evidence that this has happened.  Indeed, we could frame the issue differently and say that, in order to safeguard democracy, we should embrace legislation that seeks to ensure that anyone eligible to vote CAN vote.  Such legislation would give voters the benefit of the doubt and allow them to cast a ballot at least provisionally.  Either type of legislation has merits.

The fact, though, is that Republicans largely support the first type of legislation, which suggests that they feel confident that the vast majority of those who would be found ineligible under such legislation would be unlikely to support Republican candidates or causes.  Indeed, one of the more. . .amusing provisions, from Texas, would allow concealed-handgun licenses to be used for identification but not student ID cards.  Seriously, why not just say that a Republican Party membership card meets the ID requirements, while a Democratic one will not only prevent one from voting but lead to temporary detention?

"Republicans, who have passed almost all of the new election laws, say they are necessary to prevent voter fraud, and question why photo identification should be routinely required at airports but not at polling sites."  Well, probably because the threat of hijacking an airplane is literal, while the hijacking of our democracy is at most a metaphorical--and most likely an illusory--threat.

If Republicans are so concerned about threats to democracy, why are they not more incensed at the disproportionate electoral clout wielded by the wealthy and corporations?  Or are logos considered an acceptable form of voter identification?

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