Missouri and at least 19 other states are considering passing laws that would force people to prove their citizenship before they can vote. These bills are not a sincere effort to prevent noncitizens from voting; that is a made-up problem. The real aim is to reduce turnout by eligible voters. Republicans seem to think that laws of this kind will help them win elections, but burdensome rules like these — and others cropping up around the country — pose a serious threat to democracy and should be stopped.Link.
The Missouri legislature is, as Ian Urbina reported in The Times on Monday, on the verge of passing an amendment to the State Constitution that would require proof of citizenship from anyone registering to vote. In addition to the Missouri amendment, which would require voter approval, Florida, Kansas, South Carolina and other states are considering similar rules.
There is no evidence that voting by noncitizens is a significant problem. Illegal immigrants do their best to remain in the shadows, to avoid attracting government attention and risking deportation. It is hard to imagine that many would walk into a polling place, in the presence of challengers and police, and try to cast a ballot.
There is, however, ample evidence that a requirement of proof of citizenship will keep many eligible voters from voting. Many people do not have birth certificates or other acceptable proof of citizenship, and for some people, that proof is not available. One Missouri voter, Lillie Lewis, said at a news conference last week that officials in Mississippi, where she was born, told her they had no record of her birth.
Proof of citizenship is just one of an array of new barriers to voting that have been springing up across the country. Indiana adopted a tough new photo ID voting requirement, over objections from Democrats that it would prevent eligible voters from casting a ballot. The critics were right. In last week’s Indiana primary, a group of about 12 nuns in their 80s and 90s were prevented from voting because they lacked acceptable ID.
As with Missouri’s proposed amendment, the driving force behind strict voter ID requirements in general is not a genuine effort to prevent fraud, since there is virtually no evidence that in-person voter fraud is occurring. It is, rather, the Republican Party’s electoral calculations. Barriers at the polls drive down voter turnout, especially among the poor, racial minorities and students — groups that are less likely than average to have driver’s licenses, and that are more likely than average to vote Democratic.
The imposition of harsh new requirements to vote has become a partisan issue, but it should not be. These rules are an assault on democracy itself. The current conservative Supreme Court showed last month, in its ruling upholding the Indiana ID law, that it will not perform its historical role of protecting voters. That puts the burden on state legislators, governors, state courts and ordinary citizens to ensure that the right to vote is not taken away for partisan political gain.