The saddest spectacle on the voting rights front lately has been the sight of progressive voting rights “reformers” giving up the fight against photo ID laws. In the front ranks of these sunshine patriots (to cadge a phrase from Thomas Paine) have been former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young and former President Bill Clinton, who recently came out in favor of forcing the Social Security Administration to issue photo IDs to citizens who request them. The argument is that Republican-sponsored voter ID laws are here to stay, so we might as well just make it easier for people to get photo IDs so they can exercise their right to vote. (The argument is also advanced by political scientist Norman Ornstein, co-founder of a voting rights group called WhyTuesday, which is chaired by Young.) We’ve described the numerous drawbacks of this sort of capitulation here and here. We called the Social Security photo ID thing “a terrible idea,” which got Young’s troupe of loyal supporters all upset. Now it turns out that photo ID laws may not, indeed, be here to stay. Over the last week, judges in three states have tossed them out, two of them on grounds that there’s no evidence that voter impersonation, the problem they supposedly address, even exists, and they’re plainly designed by the GOP to discourage voting by minorities and the poor. In other words, likely Democratic voters.
The most recent ruling is from Wisconsin, where U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman ruled Tuesday that the state’s ID law violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. Election law expert Rick Hasen of UC Irvine calls the ruling “the best possible opinion that opponents of voter identification laws could have hoped for.”
Adelman found that “virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin and it is exceedingly unlikely that voter impersonation will become a problem in Wisconsin in the foreseeable future.”
On the other hand, some 300,000 Wisconsin voters would be disadvantaged by the need to acquire a photo ID, typically from the state DMV. That means taking time off to go to their local office, producing a birth certificate — which many don’t have.