Glenn Garvin

What’s wrong with safeguarding the vote?


Over the weekend, I read a newspaper report from Texas that a new law there requiring voters to show a photo ID or a birth certificate before casting a ballot was working a hardship on the poor, who can’t afford those kind of documents. My guess is that those folks are going to remain poor for a long time, because without photo IDs or birth certificates, they can’t get jobs in the United States, at least not legally.

That’s right: Federal law requires employers to see either a U.S. passport or a birth certificate plus a government-issued ID card before hiring an American citizen. There are some small exceptions — American Indian tribal identification documents, for instance, not all of which include photos — but essentially, no ID card, no job.

Here are some other things that are difficult or impossible for Americans to do without a government-issued photo ID: Drive. Get on an airplane. Open a bank account. Buy beer or cigarettes. Enroll in Obamacare. Collect unemployment benefits or welfare payments. Buy allergy medicine that contains pseudoephedrine — or, to put that in laymen’s language, buy any allergy medicine that works.

I’d guess several of those ID requirement work hardships on the needy — especially applying for welfare, which by definition is an activity pretty much limited to poor people. (Rich people get welfare, too, but it usually comes in a form like a new baseball stadium or a bank bailout, for which photo IDs are unnecessary.) Yet nobody is banging the drum to free the underclass of the oppressive yoke of the photo ID card for anything except voting.

Why is that? We’re lectured over and over that voting is the foundation of democracy and a sacred rite of citizenship. But any attempt to safeguard it for actual citizens is roundly denounced by progressives.

We’re told that voter ID cards are a solution in search of a problem, that there’s no evidence that anybody’s cheating. Which is odd, because everybody used to cheat like crazy. The whole reason we have advance voter-registration and uniform ballots today is that old-time political bosses like Tammany Hall’s William M. Tweed promiscuously rounded up drunks, jailbirds, mental patients and, yes, non-citizens to cast ballots. (“I don't think there was ever a fair or honest election in the City of New York,” Tweed testified in a political corruption investigation after he fell from power.)

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was so energetic in getting out his city’s graveyard vote to swing the 1960 presidential election that the comedian Mort Sahl joked that he planned to be buried there so he could stay active in politics after his death. Lyndon Johnson likely would never have been president if he hadn’t won a come-from-behind U.S. Senate victory by 88 votes after 202 previously unreported ballot surfaced in a single South Texas precinct. All were cast for LBJ, and, oddly, all 202 voters signed in with identical handwriting.

So has human nature suddenly taken a magnificent turn for the better? The results, when anybody has defied progressive dogma to look into the possibility that politicians are still trying to steal votes, have not been encouraging.

A Brazilian-born woman recently walked into the headquarters of Kay Hagan, the Democratic nominee for the U.S.Senate in North Carolina, and told several campaign workers she was an illegal immigrant but had registered to vote anyway. Was there a problem with that?

“It shouldn’t be an issue at all,” one of the workers reassured her. “I don’t think they’re going to dig that deep into it,” said another. “All I can say is try.” Oops. The “voter” was actually working for conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe, who captured those exchanges and several others on camera.

Anecdotal evidence? Maybe. But some political scientists believe illegal voting by non-citizen immigrants is widespread. Three professors at Virginia’s Old Dominion University are publishing a study in the academic journal Electoral Studies next month that concludes that non-citizen voters may have changed the outcomes of several races for the House and Senate in 2008 and even handed Barack Obama North Carolina’s electoral votes. But look on the bright side. At least they didn’t make off with our allergy medicine.