Sometimes the habitual complainer of foul play gets a little embarrassed when fairness rules the day after all.
That’s how opponents of voter identification laws should be feeling after the recent Alabama Senate race. Despite their dark premonitions, voting laws didn’t hurt turnout or seem to affect the outcome.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Alabama is one of 34 states with voter identification laws. It requires its citizens to present a photo ID prior to voting. Voters may use a driver’s license, a nondriver, state-issued or federal-issued ID, a U.S. passport, a student or employee ID from a college or university or a military or tribal ID. If the citizen does not possess any of these, he or she may receive a free Alabama photo voter identification card from their county Board of Registrar’s office. In addition, the Alabama Secretary of State’s office visited every county with mobile units to offer another way to receive a free voter identification card.
The Alabama program sounds reasonable and helpful — not a burdensome hindrance intended to suppress the vote as opponents of voter identification cards have argued.
And yet there persisted much grumbling about these laws. Just days before the election, the New York Times, MSNBC, the Huffington Post and the Daily Beast all ran stories fretting about how voter identification laws would likely hurt turnout and possibly swing the election to Republican candidate, Roy Moore.
Elections without a presidential vote typically have lower turnouts. The 2014 midterm election in Alabama had a 33 percent turnout, and expectations for this special Senate election were to equal that number or come in lower.
Instead, voter turnout surged to 40 percent, and Democrat Doug Jones won the election.
It was also a win for the merits of voter identification laws. There may have been some isolated instances of short-term voting delays, but the long-term benefit of knowing that the vote was legitimate exceeds any inconveniences.
Many elections in this country over the past 200 years have been decided by a mere percentage point or two. The Jones-Moore race falls into this category. The Alabama Secretary of State lists the unofficial results of the election as Jones beating Moore by 1.54 percent. That’s close. But because the state had voter identification laws, we know the Alabama election was run with the highest integrity possible. Moore, who hasn’t conceded yet, should do so.
And while lawmakers like to fuss about voter identification laws, it doesn’t match the sentiment of most voters — no matter what their political persuasion. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, 80 percent of all voters were fine with them.
Voter identification laws don’t suppress the vote. Apathy does, and that’s not something that can be legislated. When people choose to participate in the political process, their voice is heard.
Iowa just enacted its own voter identification laws. According to the Secretary of State’s website, “During calendar year 2018, voters will be asked to show their ID before voting at the polls. Anyone who does not have the necessary ID will be asked to sign an oath verifying their identity, and will be allowed to cast a regular ballot. Beginning January 1, 2019, Iowa voters will be required to show a driver’s license, nondriver’s ID, passport, military ID, veterans ID or voter ID card at the polls before they vote. Voters without the necessary ID will be offered a provisional ballot and can provide ID up until the time of the county canvass of votes.”
These voting laws will be a good thing for Iowa.
And as Alabama has shown, it will be fair for all.