Will Republicans pursue federal voter ID legislation?
TPM's Ryan J. Reilly looks at whether Republicans, after pursuing restrictive voter ID laws in twenty-seven states, might propose federal legislation:
Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), chairman of House Subcommittee on Elections, held a hearing this week to examine reports of voting by non-citizens and raised the specter of voter fraud.
"Congress often focuses on increasing access to voter registration — making it easier for everyone to participate in elections," Harper said in a statement. "And that is a goal that we must continuously pursue; however, we must also ensure that easing access to voter registration isn't also, inadvertently, increasing vulnerabilities to voter fraud.
"We simply cannot have an electoral system that allows thousands of non-citizens to violate the law and vote in our elections," Harper said. "We must do more to protect the integrity of our electoral processes."
The staying power of the "voter fraud" hustle is something to behold. Notwithstanding the Bush administration's failure to produce more than a handful of prosecutions for voter fraud despite running the Justice Department for eight years, conservatives still hold as an article of faith the idea that massive numbers of fraudulent votes are swinging elections. Despite, as the Brennan Center noted in a 2007 analysis, "Overly restrictive identification requirements for voters at the polls . . . address a sort of voter fraud more rare than death by lightning," voter ID bills remain popular because of misinformation about the extent of voter fraud as a problem.
It's no secret why this kind of legislation remains popular among Republicans, because the burdens on voting it creates tend to fall disproportionately on Democratic constituencies. The Republican National Committee is still operating under the terms of a 1982 consent decree that limits its ability to conduct "ballot-security operations" because of its past use of voter-caging practices meant to suppress the minority vote. The consent decree was extended in 2009, because as the judge wrote, "Voter intimidation presents an ongoing threat to the participation of minority individuals in the political process, and continues to pose a far greater danger to the integrity of that process than the type of voter fraud the RNC is prevented from addressing by the Decree."
All that said, I'm not sure why Republicans would want to pursue federal voter ID legislation. More than half the states are already considering voter ID laws, which makes federal legislation almost redundant. Dealing with the issue in Congress would nationalize the matter in a way that might incur greater resistance.
Whether there's federal legislation or not, Republicans are already having great success on the state level in pursuing policies that could adversely affect Democratic-leaning voters. It's an open question whether these bills will ultimately suppress Democratic votes, but we do know they can't solve a problem that doesn't exist.