Editorial: Chipping away
Forty-nine years ago last week, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965. Ever since then, it seems, we’ve been chipping away at it.
Last Wednesday, on the anniversary of the signing of that landmark bill into law, the Virginia State Board of Elections approved a measure that will further restrict its voter identification criteria, requiring voters to present a current photo ID or one that has expired within the past year in order to cast a ballot.
In June, the elections board had determined that expired but otherwise valid forms of identification permitted under the new mandate would be accepted at the polls. Then, State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), who was narrowly defeated by Attorney General Mark Herring in last year’s statewide election, expressed the belief that driver’s licenses and other forms of identification must be current or recently expired (30 days or less) in order to be valid. An expired license more than 30 days out of date, in his view, would not be a valid form of identification in order to vote.
Del. Vivian Watts (D-Annandale) rightfully pointed out that “valid” has nothing to do with expiration dates. As she said in an interview on NPR: “It was validly issued by somebody—by an agency who took that picture and matched it up with that name, and the person before you is the person of that name. If we had chosen to use the word ‘current,’ current would have been there.”
While not following the strict interpretation of Obenshain, the state Board of Elections did further restrict the voting franchise in Virginia in its decision. It also handed registrars and election officials the task of having to determine if a driver’s license or other ID is more than a year out of date.
This all would possibly make sense if voter fraud—the kind where individuals, otherwise ineligible to vote, misidentified themselves in order to cast a ballot—was running rampant on Election Day.
The fact is, it is not.
Justin Levitt, a professor at the Loyola University Law School and an expert in constitutional law, has been tracking allegations of this type of voter fraud for years. And what did he find?
Well, out of a billion votes cast in the U.S. since 2000, he found 31 allegations of impersonation at the polls. Thirty-one! And those 31 cases aren’t proved beyond a shadow of a doubt; they are merely credible allegations.
This does not cover all forms of voter fraud—including absentee ballot fraud, vote buying, voter coercion, fraud in the tallying process, voter registration fraud, double voting, et cetera—but merely the type that would be addressed by voter ID laws. So it looks like voter ID laws offer a solution where no problem exists.
But what is the harm in requiring people to have valid forms of ID in order to vote? After all, most all of us have driver’s licenses, passports, employee photo ID cards, others. But what about those who don’t? Or what about those who let their driver’s licenses lapse for a couple years? Shouldn’t we be making the voting process easier, not more difficult?
Consider one real-life case: An elderly woman moves to a retirement community in Virginia to be close to her family. She hasn’t driven for several years and the only ID she has is from another state. She wants to participate in the voting process in her new home. She registers to vote, but now is faced with the added burden of having to get a photo ID from Virginia before she can cast her ballot.
How much is too much?