EDITORIAL: Don’t use fraud to make ID case

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Bogus claims, restrictive add-ons give election ‘reform’ smell of suppression.

FOR YEARS NOW, on the topic of requiring better identification of voters at the polls, we have held two views simultaneously on the topic. Neither one is a comfortable fit within the tight confines of the ideological combatants on the Voter ID issue.

First, it’s not too much to expect would-be voters at the polls to show evidence they are who they say they are. One may have to produce an ID to cash a check, buy a beer, see an R-rated movie or perform countless other everyday activities in modern society.

Second, we don’t buy for a minute the angry assertions that American elections are overrun with vote fraud. Wherever that claim has been tested and studied it has been found absurdly exaggerated. Proven cases of fraud are extraordinarily rare coast-to-coast, and most of those that have been found do not involve identity fraud at the polls. So while we believe an ID requirement is reasonable, we reject the unproven fraud argument. And, if a certain ID is to be required, we believe the obligation is on the government to make sure it’s free and easily accessible for any and all who are eligible and want to vote. No legitimate voter ever should be turned away. Period.

A FEW DAYS AGO Richard A. Posner, judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the man who wrote the opinion approving an Indiana ID law that began the nationwide rush to require such proof, said the case was decided wrong.

In a New York Times article, Judge Posner is quoted: “(Voter ID is) a type of law now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention.”

He continued: “(At the time of the 2007 decision) there hadn’t been that much activity in the way of voter identification. ... We weren’t really given strong indications that requiring additional voter identification would actually disenfranchise people entitled to vote.”

Posner says he now agrees with the dissent of the late Judge Terence T. Evans in the Indiana case. Evans wrote: “Let’s not beat around the bush: The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic.”

Evans, Posner says, “was right.”

SO, CAN POSNER be tagged as just another liberal judge trying to legislate from the bench? Hardly. He was appointed by President Reagan and is widely admired as a generally conservative jurist.

The problem here is the premise of trying to sell ID laws on the basis of alleging widespread fraud at the polls. That argument just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Nor does it help when ID laws are coupled with measures to prohibit straight-ticket voting; limit the number of early voting days; limit evening and weekend hours for local clerks, and other restrictions.

Likewise, it raises eyebrows when angry talk-radio hosts rant about “low information voters,” in the sort of sneering way that suggests they’d like to keep certain people from exercising their rights at the polls.

Put it all together and it’s no wonder suspicion has been growing about the motives behind those pushing such election “reform.”

MEANWHILE, WISCONSIN’S ID law continues to be tangled in the courts. A federal trial began this week. State judges have suspended the law pending appeal after a court declared it an unconstitutional impediment to voting.

Astonishingly, none of that kept hardcore supporters from trying to introduce new voting restrictions recently into the Wisconsin legislature.

We give Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald credit for having the good sense to spike the legislation, saying the state should let the court cases play out before loading up the docket with more bills.

In a real sense this issue is indicative of today’s political culture, where the two sides have moved so far apart and where finding balance and compromise is considered a traitorous act. That’s why, in our view, the political class seemingly cannot comprehend a common-sense concept: (1) Proving one’s identity is a reasonable expectation; (2) so long as the state can be sure everyone who needs an ID has one, free of charge, and no eligible voter is turned away.

THE LATE AUTHOR F. Scott Fitzgerald — not the Senate majority leader, by the way — put it well: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

If only we could elect people like that.

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