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The Heritage Foundation and Voter ID – Here We Go Again

July 27, 2012

In a recent article on The Foundry, Amy Payne went to great lengths to describe the Justice Department as blocking Voter ID laws in some sort of racially motivated election rigging conspiracy. However, I take issue with a few items she mentioned. Mainly, all of them.

Ms. Payne opened her piece with the following statements (I assume they are accusations, but they are technically just pointless phrases):

People seemingly voting after they’ve been dead for years.
Drug kingpins buying votes from poor people to sway elections.
Non-citizens being bussed to the polls and coached on how to vote.

Ms. Payne goes on to address Voter ID laws with no citations to back up the first statement, no citations to back up the third statement, and a reference to the second statement that has nothing to do with Voter ID laws. She then goes on to state that AG Holder and his team have “blocked states at almost every turn.” I think she means that States’ Rights requires that the AG address each state’s laws separately, but I guess she takes it differently…

Her first piece of evidence is the statement that the Justice Department think’s blacks can’t vote Democrat if the ballot doesn’t reflect each candidate’s political party. This is presented as racially inflammatory by Ms. Payne. However, if you actually read the very detailed letter from the Justice Department to the Lenoir county attorney, it is very clearly laid out that the request to remove party affiliations would be a direct violation of the voting rights act and that the municipality’s own representatives agree with the Justice Department’s analysis.

The article then goes on to state that Heritage expert Hans von Spakovsky said calling Voter ID requirements a poll tax is merely the perpetuation of an incendiary error to the public and that such assertions are racially charged. In fact, Voter ID laws seem to affect minorities most, and these minorities are usually non-white, so race does play into it. That is an entirely different issue that digs to the core of fundamental problems in America – well beyond this discussion. However, the Voter-ID-as-Poll-Tax is not an error. Some courts have ruled against parts of it, but that does not make it wrong. There is misinformation in von Spakovsky’s article where he indicates that the Supreme Court agreed with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals – this is left to indicate that the Supreme Court didn’t consider the burden to be a poll tax. Their actual reasoning, as listed in their written statement, was that the burden could be waived if a voter filled out a provisional ballot and then signed an affidavit saying they could not afford to get the required ID. The other case cited is Common Cause of Georgia v. Billups. The court actually subjected the Georgia ID law to injunction TWICE before finally supporting the law strictly based on the support of the earlier Indiana law, even though Georgia does not have the indigent clause Indiana did. This was a mistake of the court that will one day be reviewed. However, the drastic differences between the two states’ laws makes it clear that each state must face a legal challenge on their own merits – that’s basic law, not partisan politics. The biggest citation is regarding the Ninth Circuit decision that the Arizona law was not a poll tax. Of course, the Ninth Circuit also struck down the proof-of-citizenship requirement in 2010, thus eliminating the most likely source of financial strain for voters: a certified copy of their birth certificate. Von Spakovsky goes on, in his article, to say that Attorneys General have a responsibility to be non-partisan and uphold the law. While I am in complete agreement with that, I wonder what the Heritage folks feel about the blatant partisan appointments of conservative AG’s throughout the nation under Bush’s presidency. Then there are the issues of Von Spakovsky himself, but we’ll hit that later.

Next, Ms. Payne says simply that Holder is “investigating” Pennsylvania’s voter ID law. She put quotes around the word to give it an air of sarcasm, or just plain evil – a typical propagandist move. She then went on to quote Artur Davis speaking at the Heritage Foundation. I’ve tried to review that speech, but the Heritage copy of the video is currently unavailable. I’ll review it when it returns.

The author then went on to address Kansas by linking to another Heritage post by von Spakovsky. The numbers cited clearly show that only a few folks requested the state’s voter ID. Von Spakovsky stated that this showed that very few people were affected. Frankly, that’s like saying that since only a handful of people make it off of a sinking ship, very few people were affected (you know – except the ones still in the sunken ship). The Kansas law, which requires proof of citizenship, hasn’t faced significant court challenge, yet – but, when it does, I don’t think it will fare well. The low number of voters requesting the ID more than likely reflects the small number of people who are capable of gathering the required documentation, which is expensive and often difficult to obtain.

Ms. Payne goes on to mention that ID is required to enter the Justice Department and even to enter an unnamed news organization. That’s certainly true. But Americans have no constitutionally guaranteed right to enter those places freely. We do, however, have the right to vote in an unencumbered fashion.

Ms. Payne then closes with a stunning account of vote-buying in Kentucky. It is quite shocking and really gets the blood boiling. However, the perpetrators have been prosecuted and are in prison thanks to solid government action and – wait for it – vote buying has absolutely nothing to do with Voter ID.

It’s well-known that the Heritage Foundation is a conservative think-tank and they should naturally lean to the right. When one side is so adamant to make a change that is most likely to affect minorities (argue the degree of effect all you want) on the eve of the possible re-election of the first minority president, it should be clear that such actions stand to benefit that side. The implications are clear enough to make one question the facts as presented. And doing so will reveal the truth behind the spin. In case there’s any doubt, you should know that von Spakovsky was appointed to the FEC by Bush during a recess and his confirmation was so contentious that he withdrew the appointment. Von Spakovsky then went straight to work for the Heritage folks. This is the same guy that worked at the Justice Department and published anonymous articles of a way-right leaning, in clear violation of what others would consider ethical actions. While he was there, more than half of the career Justice Department staff left the voting section in protest.

Personally, I support Voter ID laws. I just think that it needs to be consistent, flexible, and shouldn’t take affect for twenty years so that the changes can in no way benefit the politicians currently in office. ID should be 100% free, including all required documentation, and should be provided automatically on the day of birth or naturalization. It should then be illegal for anyone, citizen or official, to use that ID for any purpose other than voting.

It’s an easy fix. Unfortunately, some folks will always try to game the system for political advantage. I just want to make sure we all read between the lines.

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