Tuesday, March 22, 2011

EDITORIAL >> Don’t keep voters away

Arkansas’ long history of voter fraud has begged for reform, but it has not begged for the state to make voting an ordeal. That is what the House of Representatives has decided to do.

Monday, the House approved a bill to require every voter to present a government-issued photo identification before he or she can vote in any election. Without a passport or a current driver’s license a person would be an illegal voter, regardless of the validity of a permanent voter registration. Tens of thousands of Arkansas voters do not have a passport or a driver’s license, owing to a disability, age, poverty or the simple choice not to own a vehicle.

Rep. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, said the bill would take care of those people by requiring the state to set up photo-identification equipment in the counties to provide identification cards for people who didn’t drive or have passports and still wanted to vote. In other words, if they really, really, really want to vote, a person can go to the trouble and expense of getting an official photo ID. If voting is much of a hassle, lots of people will not bother. If there is going to be a scene and they are forced to cast a “provisional” ballot to be adjudicated later, they won’t bother.

Imposing such a burden on the poor and elderly might be worth it if there were evidence that a consequential number of people were sneaking in and voting under someone else’s registration or a fraudulent registration. Arkansas still has a problem with voting fraud in some parts of the state, but fake or phantom voters are not a problem.

No, this is not about correcting rampant voter fraud but discouraging certain people from voting, mainly minorities who are less apt to have a current driver’s license and are certainly not going to have a passport. Republicans got such a law passed in Indiana, which was having too many people vote and voting too often for the wrong party.

Needing 51 votes, King’s bill passed 53-36. Let’s hope the Senate stands up for the disadvantaged and defeats this anti-democratic scam. We must maintain an election system that makes voting easy and honest and punishes election officials who corrupt the process. That would be real reform.