I have a sneaking suspicion that Tyler was trying to provoke me about voter ID this morning, and, well, it worked.
First, a rebuttal to the linked Jonah Goldberg op-ed. At its essence, his point is that people can’t get on airplanes, buy alcohol, or open bank accounts without photo ID. It shouldn’t be unreasonable, then, to ask them to produce ID when voting. Or I assume that’s the point he’s trying to make. He shrewdly disguises his logical and ideological shortcomings with hysterical red herrings about Democratic fear-mongering and race-baiting (this coming from the author a book entitled Liberal Fascism, no less…)
Goldberg’s first problem is his illogical conflation of the ability to engage in market activities with the ability to vote. The former is a private economic transaction. The latter is a Constitutional right underpinning our very form of government. The fact that Avis can deny me a rental car because I don’t have a driver’s license doesn’t, as Goldberg thinks, mean poll watchers should be able to deny my right to vote based on the same.
His second problem is an ideological one. Republican dogma holds that an inevitable trade-off exists between the size of government and individual liberty: the government that governs best governs least and so on. Yet, by Goldberg’s own admission, there is scant evidence of voter fraud taking place, pointing to — as AG Eric Holder called it — “a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.” Still, Republican legislatures and governors across the country are charging forward with voter ID mandates. If more laws inherently mean less freedom, are Republicans tacitly admitting that they are restricting the liberty of some? Specifically, the “very old, very young, very poor, minorities, [and] the disabled” — the groups Goldberg correctly identifies as the least likely to have proper identification.
In theory, voter identification is not an unreasonable expectation. The sanctity of our democracy depends on the legitimacy of its electoral process, and we should take every step to protect it from fraud and corruption. Such theory assumes, however, a reality in which every eligible voter has equal, uninhibited access to a photo ID. That is simply not the case. Studies have shown that up to 11 percent of eligible voters do not have a qualified ID.
The problem isn’t the requirement itself, but the sequence. Instead of starting with the mandate, we should begin by expanding access to photo identification. After the 11 percent have obtained the necessary cards, they can be asked to present them when voting. (And Goldberg is right that many people are excluded from the modern economy due to lack of ID, so creating clearer pathways to government-issued cards can be justified in its own right.)
I anticipate, however, that this compromise wouldn’t go over well with Republicans. Regardless of what Al Sharpton says, Republicans aren’t pushing voter ID because they don’t like minorities — they want it because they don’t like people who vote for Democrats. It is a hardball political maneuver designed to gain an electoral advantage. And Democrats wouldn’t be opposed to people showing ID when they go to the polls if it wasn’t primarily their voters who would be disadvantaged.
I’m shocked, shocked to find that politics is going on in here!