Americans should be skeptical of the sweeping changes to state voting rules that will make it harder for many eligible citizens to vote.
According to research here at the Brennan Center for Justice, as many as 11 percent of voting-age American citizens do not have the kinds of government-issued photo IDs required by the highly restrictive voter ID laws passed since last year in Pennsylvania, Kansas, Tennessee, and elsewhere. That includes longtime voters who are seniors, veterans, and minorities.
These citizens face hurdles of access, time, and costs in obtaining such IDs. The timing of these laws, passed in a major election year, also makes them suspect. Indeed, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson ruled Tuesday that the state could not implement its new voter ID law until after this year's November election, effectively halting it for now. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had asked the lower court to review whether voters would be disenfranchised in the rush to implement the state’s new ID law.
There is no way to get the new state-issued photo IDs into the hands of all eligible Americans covered by the new laws before the election, especially given the rickety condition of the ID-issuing operations in many states.
So why are politicians hastening to put in place these requirements? Could it be they don’t want certain Americans to vote? In Pennsylvania, House majority leader Mike Turzai bragged to his Republican colleagues that the state’s new voter ID law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state.”
Restrictive voter ID laws like the one passed by Mr. Turzai and his colleagues help determine winners only by excluding legitimate voters who might not vote the way the politicians want.
That’s not right. Politicians should not be able to manipulate election rules for political gain.
Of course it is important to protect the integrity of elections and prevent voter fraud. But our country was founded on the principle that we are all created equal. Living up to that promise means we cannot stand for new rules that block large numbers of eligible Americans from voting.
Wendy Weiser is the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.