The Conservative Case Against Voter ID Laws

David Benkof Contributor
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Friday’s decision by a federal appeals court to uphold Wisconsin’s voter ID law requiring proof of identification at polling booths has pleased many of my fellow Republicans who feared the measure would be declared a violation of federal law or even the Constitution.

Legal or not, though, voter ID laws buck core principles of conservatism. They don’t belong on the GOP agenda, even if the cost is thousands of additional Democrat votes.

(But sorry, liberals; voter ID laws are not racist. They may be cynical attempts to rig the electoral rules, but that’s only racist in the minds of people who find racism in everything Republicans do.)

Conservatives simply don’t support laws with no significant function. There is scant evidence of voter impersonation in American elections. At most, researchers who attempted to vote fraudulently were not caught. But that’s inventing a problem. Showing that someone could violate a law if he wanted to is only relevant if people want to commit that crime.

For a moment, let’s pretend that 1 percent of the votes in any given election are fraudulent and could have been prevented by voter ID laws (and that number is certainly way too high). Something like 10 percent of eligible voters do not have ID. So voter ID laws try to make voting a little fairer in a way that makes it much less fair.

If voter ID laws are directed at fraud prevention instead of electoral influence, why do thirteen states (including Ohio, Texas, and Virginia) refuse to accept expired driver’s licenses as valid ID? Surely, a once-valid but now-expired license is not evidence of fraud. Obviously, voter ID laws are not narrowly tailored to solve a legitimate problem – even if the tiny number of voter impersonation cases were a legitimate problem.

And that’s just not how people on the right are supposed to operate. We believe that laws exist to solve problems – and that any law that does not solve a problem infringes on people’s liberty.

Further, voter ID laws silence the civic input of Americans unless they provide the government with personal details they may prefer to keep private. That violates the spirit of the Fourth Amendment right to be left alone that conservatives usually treasure.

I don’t happen to be a conspiracy theorist, but so what if I am? Should that prevent me from helping select my representatives in Washington? States typically require data for IDs such as residential address, date of birth, height, weight, race (!), hair and eye color, and, most disturbingly, a photo.

Given face-recognition technology, government access to such data enables searches by police and other government agencies (read: Big Brother) that law-abiding citizens may prefer to avoid. One might ask what such people have to hide, but it doesn’t matter. In America, even paranoid people have a fundamental right to vote.

If someone chooses not to fly or drive or visit the White House, that’s her own damned business. She should be free to keep her personal data to herself without forfeiting the most important right she has as an American. Remember “no taxation without representation”?

Barring voter ID laws, many elderly Americans have no reason to keep their IDs current. Why should the government render their voices mute unless they stand in line (a difficult task for many seniors) at a government bureau and hand over personal data to the Feds?

Sure, voter ID laws disproportionately limit Democrat voters, which benefits the GOP. But just because something is beneficial doesn’t make it right. Lately, Republicans have been told repeatedly that we must compromise our principles on issues like immigration and same-sex marriage or risk becoming a permanent minority party. Even if that’s true (and I don’t think it is), electoral consequences should not be the primary consideration in determining political stances. Principles and values are more important.

And to me, there is no greater value in a democracy than a wide franchise. Our nation’s policies and priorities will not reflect the national will if large swaths of the American people are silenced for no good reason.

It’s not only the right thing to do; it’s the right-wing thing to do.

David Benkof is a freelance writer living in St. Louis. He is a frequent contributor to the Daily Caller. Follow him on Facebook or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.