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Former Republican: How I Learned That Voter ID Laws Pushed By the GOP Are Racist

Why can’t Republican voters see that Republicans pass voter ID laws to suppress voting, not fraud?

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We loathed identity politics, which we viewed as invidious -- as well as harmful to minorities.  And the “race card” was so simplistic, so partisan, so boring.  Besides, what about all that reverse discrimination?  Now  that was racist.

We also hated any accusation that made it sound like we were personally racist.  It’s a big insult to call someone a racist or a bigot, and we loathed it when Democrats associated the rest of us Republicans with the bigots in the party.  At least in my world, we rejected racism, which we defined (in what I now see as a conveniently narrow way) as intentional and mean-spirited acts or attitudes -- like the laws passed by segregationist  Democrats.

This will undoubtedly amaze non-Republicans, but given all of the above, Republican voters continue to hear the many remarkably blunt statements by those leading the Republican drive to pass voter ID laws not as racist but at the very worst  Democratist.  That includes comments like that of Pennsylvania House majority leader  Mike Turzai who spoke of “voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: done.”  Or state Representative Alan Clemmons, the principal sponsor of South Carolina’s voter ID law, who handed out bags of peanuts with this note attached: “Stop Obama’s nutty agenda and support voter ID.”

Besides, some would point out that these laws also affect other people like the elderly (who often vote Republican) or out-of-state college students (often white) -- and the latter would make sense as a target, because in the words of New Hampshire House leader Bill O’Brien, that’s the age when you tend to “foolishly... do what kids do”: “vote as a liberal.”  And yes, this might technically violate the general principle that clean elections should include everyone, but partisans won’t mind the results.

This makes me wonder how bothered I would have been had I known how committed Republican strategists are to winning elections by  shrinking the electorate rather than appealing to more of it.  I did certainly harbor a quiet suspicion that, to the extent we were the party of the managerial class, we were inherently fated to be a minority party.

The Safety Valve

Another key reason why Republican voters see no problem with these laws is their big safety valve: if you don’t have an ID, well, then, be responsible and go get one!

If, however, Republican voters are generally unaware of the high frequency of minorities, the poor, and the elderly lacking IDs, they are blissfully ignorant of the real costs of getting an ID.  Yes, the ID itself is free for the indigent (to comport with the 24th Amendment’s ban on poll taxes), but the documents one needs to get a photo ID  aren’t, and the prices haven’t been reduced.  Lost your naturalization certificate?  That’ll be $345.  Don’t have a birth certificate because you’re black and were born in the segregated south?  You have to go to  court.

Similarly, Republican voters -- and perhaps most others -- tend not to be aware of how hard it can be to get an ID if you live in a state where DMV offices are far away or where they simply aren't open very often.  One can only hope that would-be voters have access to a car or adequate public transportation, and a boss who won’t mind if they take several hours off work to go get their ID, particularly if they live in, say, the  third of Texas counties that have no ID-issuing offices at all.

 
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