Over the last several years, the debate about voter ID, especially requirements that voters show photo identification as a condition of casting a ballot, has become so predictable as to seem almost routine.
ID proponents – usually Republicans – argue that the spectre of voter fraud demands safeguards like ID to protect the sanctity of the ballot box, while opponents – usually Democrats – see ID requirements as barriers to the polls and thus vow to fight them in the name of combating disenfranchisement.
Indeed, in recent years the best predictor of whether voter ID would advance in a given state was whether or not Republicans held legislative majorities and the governorship. Recently, however, the headlines have brought new twists that suggest that the voter ID debate is no longer the predictable partisan storyline we have all come to know – if not love.
• In Rhode Island – a state with Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature, voter ID legislation – albeit less strict than companion bills elsewhere – passed overwhelmingly and was signed by Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) over the objection of his traditional allies in the advocacy community;
• In Ohio, voter ID was moving swiftly through the GOP-controlled state legislature on its way to the desk of Governor John Kasich, also a Republican. Then, it hit an unexpected roadblock – the opposition of GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted, a former state senator and state House Speaker, who said in astatement that “I would rather have no bill than one with a rigid photo identification provision that does little to protect against fraud and excludes legally registered voters’ ballots from counting.”
While it isn’t clear if these two examples are merely outliers, it is remarkable that they didn’t follow the usual script on voter ID. Moreover, these twists raise several questions about the future of the voter ID debate.