Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

EDITORIAL >> Requiring photo IDs

Arkansas has a sad but improving history of voting fraud, but the solution is not less democracy as a few Republicans lawmakers advocate.

The Arkansas Legislature last year scotched a bill that would have required everyone to present an official identification card with a photo of themselves before being allowed to vote. Merely being legally registered to vote would not be enough. You would have to have a current driverís license or a passport to prove that you were the person who was registered.

Lawmakers figured out pretty easily why that was a bad idea. Lots of people, for reasons of age, disability or economics, do not drive and have no cause to get a passport. They would be disfranchised unless they went to extraordinary efforts to get a photo ID.

There has been a surge of interest in requiring photo identifications to vote. Perhaps only coincidentally, it occurred after the success that Republican operatives had in the 2004 election turning back voters from the polls by asking people lining up to vote to produce a photo ID. Again, perhaps coincidentally, they asked for the IDs in precincts with high percentages of black voters. They are more apt not to have driverís licenses or passports.

Again, perhaps only coincidentally, blacks tend to vote for Democrats rather than Republicans. So the Republican legislature in Indiana passed a photo ID law. The United States Supreme Court will hear arguments about the lawís constitutionality today.

Meantime, Rep. Dan Greenberg, R-Little Rock, the chief sponsor of the failed voter ID bill in Arkansas, said he was encouraged to try again when the legislature reconvenes because a study of the Indiana law by the University of Missouri had concluded that the photo requirement had not dampened black voting in the 2006 elections. Greenberg will introduce the bill if the Supreme Court concludes that the photo-identity requirement does not violate the Constitution. The current Supreme Court has shown that it is not averse to basing constitutional doctrines on what is best for one political party or another.

We canít vouch for the authenticity of the Missouri study that Greenberg cited. But the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law commissioned a study that found that nearly 22 percent of black Indiana voters did not have access to a photo ID, compared with fewer than 6 percent of white voters. We have no trouble believing the statistic. What earthly reason is there to disqualify either group from participating in this great experiment of self-government?

Arkansas does not have much history of people voting for another registered voter. Indiana had never prosecuted a single case of voter impersonation before it passed its law. In any case, poll officials in Arkansas ask for some form of identification ó a checkbook, government document, utility bill or something with the personís name and address on it ó before voting, and that would seem to be ample enough protection.

For millions of Americans, voting already is hard enough because of the simple ordeal of getting off work or getting to the polls. If a party wants to gain an advantage at the polls, let it do so by changing the hearts and minds of voters.