Voter inclusion, not suppression

July 19, 2012


This one is for Mike.

He is a Houston reader who shot me an email after my recent column equating the GOP push for voter ID laws with voter suppression. I agreed with Attorney General Eric Holder who called that a modern-day poll tax. Mike did not.

“You have to have an ID to write a check,” he wrote, “use a credit card and most other things in life. Saying poor blacks cannot easily get IDs is ridiculous. .?.?. Comparing this to the poll tax? C’mon, be serious.”

Actually, I am. Not that I don’t get why Mike’s argument sounds reasonable to Mike — and to many others who made it. But let us consider it more closely.

First off, I’ve never made the claim Mike attributes to me, i.e., that poor blacks cannot get IDs. No, my point is that when you don’t have a checking account, a credit card or a car, it is less likely you will already have ID.

The name of the game, remember, is not voter prevention, but voter suppression, i.e., bringing down the numbers. In the last presidential election, only 63 percent of eligible voters voted — and that was the best showing in 48 years. Clearly, Americans are not overly enthusiastic about performing this civic duty as it is.

So, if you can add a layer of difficulty to it that requires some voters to catch a bus down to some office, fill out forms and wait in line to get a card for which they will otherwise have zero use, is it so hard to imagine that some won’t bother — and that there will be enough of them to make a difference in a close race?

Remember: demographic trends do not favor the Republican Party. As the Center for the Study of the American Electorate observed in a 2008 report, the GOP is either out of contention or seeing an erosion of support in New England, the mid-Atlantic, the West, the mountain states, the industrial Midwest, and even parts of the South. With its growing Latino population, even Texas may be lost to the party before too many years. “Within the next few decades,” says the report, “white Americans, the only demographic sub-group from which the GOP draws significant numbers of voters, will be in the minority.”

So, while the party posits these laws as a way of fighting voter fraud — a nearly non-existent problem — it takes little imagination to divine a more sinister intent. Sometimes, you don’t need imagination at all.

As in Michigan GOP lawmaker John Pappageorge’s 2004 observation that his party needed to “suppress the Detroit vote” to have any hope of electoral success. Detroit is 82 percent black.

Then there’s the GOP campaign guru in Maryland who was convicted of ordering Election Day robo-calls to black households telling them not to bother voting because Barack Obama had the election sewn up.

And let us not forget Pennsylvania Republican Mike Turzai, who recently crowed how the state’s Voter ID law would ensure victory for Mitt Romney.

Sorry, but there can be little doubt that suppression — not just of the black vote, by the way, but also of the youth and Hispanic votes — is a key goal of this shrinking party.

But what if, instead of suppressing votes, we broaden the electorate? Curtis Gans, director of the aforementioned CSAE, believes the United States should adopt Mexico’s system, wherein the government automatically issues every citizen a biometric ID card.

Such a card, encoded with your personal information — and with safeguards to protect your privacy — would eliminate whatever little voter registration fraud there is. There would be no fraud because there would be no registration. Every eligible citizen would simply swipe her card and vote.

And the GOP would have to make its case before America in the fullness of its diversity, an electorate not whittled down by artificial barriers designed to give one party an advantage over another. Surely that’s something they’d want, right?

C’mon, be serious.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on


ivalueamerica 1 year, 9 months ago

There are no valid excuses for this law.

Voter fraud is miniscule and historically and according to most research, this law will disenfranchise more legitimate voters than it will prevent voter fraud.

Voting is paramount those who feel is is justifiable to disenfranchise many voters to eliminate the fraud from a few voters has failed Citizenship 101.


woodscolt 1 year, 9 months ago

"So, if you can add a layer of difficulty to it that requires some voters to catch a bus down to some office, fill out forms and wait in line to get a card for which they will otherwise have zero use, is it so hard to imagine that some won’t bother — and that there will be enough of them to make a difference in a close race?" plagiarizes Pitts right out of the right wing wacko republican ten commandments.


beatrice 1 year, 9 months ago

Some people had IDs and no longer do, for whatever reason. That doesn't mean they are no longer citizens.

One alternative, of course, is to issue a specific ID when someone registers to vote. Now that I could get behind. What is being forced on people now, however, is intended to keep citizens from voting. Period.


jayhawklawrence 1 year, 9 months ago

It has become an established fact that the motivation behind these laws is not for the purpose of preventing fraud but for the same purpose that kansas conservatives tried to rig the elections through gerrymandering. But i suspect you already know the truth and have confidence to promote this lie upon the american people.


George Lippencott 1 year, 9 months ago

Just exactly why is it so difficult for us to ask a potential voter to once in their lifetime obtain a form of identification to use when we really need to know who you really are? We look for ID to travel, to cash checks, to drive cars, to obtain medical care and for a number of other functions. People seem to be able to negotiate the arguably difficult task of obtaining a picture ID for these purposes. Perhaps it would behoove our lawgivers to consolidate all the requirements for such an ID so as to minimize the complexity of obtaining a picture ID. Many other nations have a national ID card. Maybe it is time we join that group.

As to the need for a voter ID, how do we know one way or the other? My experience supported by some level of fact checking suggests we have no way of knowing if there is voter fraud unless the number of votes cast exceeds the voting population of a particular local. We have had acknowledgement in these pages that different counties do not have an organized way to verify if people are voting in more than one local. States seem to have the same problem. There are other forms of fraud that are also unlikely to be detected except by accident or voter stupidity. If you have no way to detect a particular problem then you certainly have no way to quantify it.

Frankly, it would seem to me that if all the people complaining about this requirement were to offer their services to assist those without ID, no one would be inconvenienced in obtaining the necessary credential.


jayhawklawrence 1 year, 9 months ago

So I guess the Republicans who have not yet abandoned the party are okay with this kind of unethical and immoral behavior.

That is a good reason to change...


rockchalk1977 1 year, 9 months ago

Rock's federal, state and local voting requirements:

(1) US Citizen (2) Government Photo ID (3) Pay Property Taxes (4) IQ of 100+ (5) 30+ Years Old (6) Employed

Decisions would be made logically not emotionally and would produce common sense results for society.


jaywalker 1 year, 9 months ago

"It was what the early Tea Party members called themselves."

No, it wasn't. Those that began the movement certainly didn't consider the backlash for their juvenile mantra of "Tea bag the Fools in D.C.", but they never called themselves "teabaggers."


tbaker 1 year, 9 months ago

Requiring someone to have a photo ID in order to vote is not suppressing voters. If that ends up inconveniencing someone to the point they are unwilling to do it and they do not vote as a result, so be it. Performing one’s civic duty has always been a matter of personal choice.

Protecting the integrity of the election process is more important than protecting someone's choice to be lazy.


beatrice 1 year, 9 months ago

Interesting glitch in the system. Twice I have responded to jaywalker's comment "No, it wasn't. It's always been a derogatory slur." and twice my comment has disappeared. I am sure it was not removed for the content of my comment, which was simply "Wrong. It started within the movement itself." It was probably because of the attachment to the National Review article "Rise of an Epithet" by Jay Nordlinger.

So, I've repeated it here without the attachment. I've given you the information needed to find it yourself.

Either that, or I'm being censored!!! That must be it!!! Where is LIberty_One to defend me????


donttreadonme 1 year, 9 months ago

"Topple3 hours ago

It's interesting that you harass cato but not observant for "name-calling."

Calling someone out for lack of civility is not harassment. I did not note observants use of the term Teabagger because that is a term used by Tea Partiers to describe themselves in the early days.


Agnostick 1 year, 9 months ago

I don't believe asking for a photo ID before voting is overly burdensome.


oldbaldguy 1 year, 9 months ago

geekin is right. we should be encouraging voter turnout. this is voter suppression. i normally vote republican.


Peter_Dragon 1 year, 9 months ago

You didn't acquire that identification, someone else did it for you.


Flap Doodle 1 year, 9 months ago

Don't you have to have a photo id to sign up for welfare?


jaywalker 1 year, 9 months ago

"So, if you can add a layer of difficulty to it that requires some voters to catch a bus down to some office, fill out forms and wait in line to get a card for which they will otherwise have zero use, is it so hard to imagine that some won’t bother"

Ah, so it's the Apathy defense; the poll tax isn't really about money, it's about putting a few people thru the "taxing" process of getting an ID. So Pitts believes too many won't bother. Seems he's looking at the wrong side of the problem, then.

The biometric card idea sounds great! Wait.........but isn't that the same thing they're pushing for now? Every citizen has a valid ID? Oh. Yeah. This would be free. Anything for the country as long as it doesn't cost anything, including effort.


FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 9 months ago

Pittsy 'stereotyping'...again.

If blacks "don't have a checking account, a credit card or a car", what do they have?

It makes one ponder. Why do they live in New America...oh, answered my own question. New America. Where 'everything' is given to you free of charge....without and ID apparently.

What do they have Pittsy? I could throw out some items but the 'complex' white Liberals would use their 'favorite' made-up word on me. Racist.


BornAgainAmerican 1 year, 9 months ago

Pitts and the Libs have reason to worry about losing their fraudulent voters. Obama is hearing footsteps with the latest CBS/NYT poll. As soon as the middle class discovers that this President (and I use the term loosely) is not really for the middle class, it'll be Romney by a landslide in November.


donttreadonme 1 year, 9 months ago

"cato_the_elder43 minutes ago

You can bet that the ignorant leftists..."

I believe that if your post begins with name-calling, perhaps your time would be better spent forming a cogent, cohesive argument.


geekin_topekan 1 year, 9 months ago

With the lowest voter turn out in the free world, how could voter fraud be such a huge problem? That ridiculous notion would suggest that illegal voters turn out in droves with an evil agenda up their dark and sinister sleeves,while the rest of us lay around and watch Faux news.

Couch potatoes are the true fraud in this country. Like our debt economy, their non-votes are what are what drives the winning numbers, not turn out.


cato_the_elder 1 year, 9 months ago

You can bet that the ignorant leftists who post on this forum will have no clue as to why snap used the word "sinister." He happens to know the root origin of the word.


Flap Doodle 1 year, 9 months ago

The folks on the sinister side of the aisle seem to be banking on massive voter fraud this year.


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