Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
February 24, 2012
Two recent bulletins place progressive outrage about voting rights in interesting perspective.
Item No. 1: The latest "Pew Center on the States Report" found 24 million invalid voter registrations and nearly 2 million dead people still on U.S. voter rolls.
Item No. 2: South Carolina has sued theU.S. Department of Justiceas a result of the DOJ's decision to block the state from requiring voters to show government-issued identification in order to vote.
For many of us, this juxtaposition is a head scratcher. One might think the "powers that be" would focus on fixes to broken election systems around the country. Yet in South Carolina, the full power of the federal government is aligned against a state for having the temerity to require a reliable source of identification prior to exercising our most fundamental right. The government's rationale? Such a requirement is discriminatory against minority voters who may not possess the requisite documents. Justice may need more lawyers to handle its forthcoming workload, however. Fifteen states have passed photo identification laws over the past year, and the Supreme Court has recently upheld the constitutionality of a similar law in Indiana.
The issue has hit home enough with me that I wrote about it in my new book, where I recount how my seasonal allergies necessitate periodic visits to the local drugstore for Claritin D. My familiar face and name do not secure a pass from having to produce Maryland photo identification, however. (It seems a certain ingredient in this form of the medication can be used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.) Accordingly, I dutifully produce my driver's license. No big deal, you might say. A rational explanation for an ever-so-slight imposition.
Yet, on Election Day in Maryland and 19 other states, the experience is reversed; every time I produce that same Maryland driver's license to poll watchers, I am assured that no such requirement is imposed by the state. A rational takeaway: Our state and federal government value the regulation of my over-the-counter allergy medicine far more than the exercise of the most important individual right possessed by an American citizen.
Some excuse these mixed-up priorities on the basis that there are potential voters (mostly poor) who truly do not possess valid photo identification. Interestingly, this justification is offered during a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult to live in the United States without some form of reliable ID. And there is no shortage of documents that pass muster under state photo ID laws: driver's licenses, passports, naturalization papers and student IDs, to name a few.
There are also options for the few who do not possess acceptable identification. Photo ID states typically allow provisional voting, so any potential voter can complete a ballot by supplying an acceptable form of identification before the election is certified. In South Carolina, the Department of Motor Vehicles will issue a free photo identification card to anyone who wishes to vote.
Religious freedom is also protected in photo ID states: Those with religious objections to being photographed need only sign an affidavit setting forth the reason they do not possess a photo ID.
As the debate over photo identification and voting rights rages in courts and state legislatures, it is illuminating that the proponents of "anything goes" voting fail to account for the interest of minorities in a free and fair electoral process that only counts legal votes. Voting rights are about access, transparency and accuracy — requirements that have not always been guaranteed to African-Americans and other minorities.
Ballot security concerns are heightened in so-called sanctuary states, where undocumented aliens are encouraged to live and work. It is a source of local embarrassment that Maryland and a few of its subdivisions have chosen this course. This "welcome wagon" for illegal immigrants may reflect a majoritarian view in progressive Maryland; nevertheless, it makes the realization of free and fair elections far more difficult.
The simple task of producing reliable photo identification at the polls should be a no-brainer. Every illegal vote cast and counted degrades our democracy. Lax immigration enforcement only magnifies the problem. Many of us in Maryland's significant political minority wish the state of South Carolina well in its battle against a misguided federal government.
Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the author of "Turn this Car Around," a book about national politics. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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