Attorney General Eric Holder delivered a speech in Austin, Texas Tuesday in which he invoked the history of the civil rights movement in targeting state voter identification laws. His approach mirrors that of the NAACP, which considers such laws racist, and echoes Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who recently claimed that Republicans want to “literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws.”
Holder claimed that the Department of Justice would be “fair” in reviewing such laws, but also quoted a misleading charge made by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who claimed there was a “systematic attempt” to prevent minority voters from exercising their rights. Holder specifically singled out “new photo identification requirements” in Texas and South Carolina, and applauded Maine’s voters for preserving same-day registration.
The fact is that requiring voters to provide photo identification is standard practice in much of the democratic world–even, and especially, in poor countries with a history of struggle against racism and colonialism.
In South Africa, for example, where black people were denied the vote until 1994, the new democratic government requires every registered voter–black or white, rich or poor–to bring official photo ID to the polls.
India’s election commission issues a special photo identification card to voters when they register, which they must present at the polls:
The Election Commission of India has made voter identification mandatory at the time of poll. The electors have to identify themselves with either Electors Photo Identity Card (EPIC) issued by the Commission or any other documentary proof as prescribed by the Commission.
In Europe, the official EU Handbook for Election Observation acknowledges that voters are required to show identification in many countries, and suggests that observers verify that all voters are subject to the same ID check (166). Even the Carter Center for Human Rights, which monitors democratic elections all over the world, identifies “a requirement for identification” as a “reasonable limitation” on universal suffrage.
(Update: That’s not to say international practice should govern American practice at the federal, state, or local level, but it certainly undermines the notion that photo identification is somehow motivated by a desire to keep people from exercising their rights. The opposite is true: voter ID laws are intended to protect voters’ rights against fraud and manipulation by those who would subvert their will.)
The idea that requiring American voters to show photo identification when they vote is racist is simply absurd. It’s a requirement enforced regularly by Holder’s labor union allies. It’s also a requirement demanded by federal agencies that provide welfare and other benefits. If there’s no destitute South African too poor to obtain photo ID, there is surely no American who deserves pity for failing to obtain the same in order to vote.
Holder’s attack on photo identification is crude partisanship, a fact made clear by his attack on Texas’s new congressional map. The federal government, he proudly notes, is challenging Republican-controlled Texas for failing to provide adequate representation for Hispanic voters. Yet Holder has ignored Illinois, where his fellow Democrats have cut Hispanics out of redistricting, and Republicans have tried to challenge the map in court.
Holder cited a Republican in Maryland who was convicted of trying to trick black voters into staying home. Yet there is also ample evidence of voter fraud by Democrats–such as in the 2008 primary in Indiana, or in the ongoing effort to recall Republican governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. Holder’s attack on sincere attempts to stop voter fraud is itself a fraud that abuses the civil rights legacy to disenfranchise the public at large.