Democrats should resist the urge to make opposition to the voter ID amendment that’s speeding through the legislature a centerpiece of their fall campaign. If it’s on the ballot in November, it will pass by large margins. A loud and high-profile campaign opposing it won’t stop the amendment from passing, but it will fire up the Republican base. Progressives should resist the bait.
Instead, Democrats should focus on shaping what an ID program looks like. If the goal is truly to prevent fraud instead of limiting access to the polls, measures should be in place to protect those citizens who have difficulty obtaining IDs. Any government issue, including student IDs, should be accepted. People should have the right to vote provisionally until they can be proven to be citizens or not. The rules should be designed to count the vote of every citizen who is eligible. Democrats can only do that if they can at least break the veto-proof majority and, hopefully, win one house of the legislature.
Make no mistake, the amendment is the result of a cynical and highly successful disinformation campaign. The goal of the amendment is to shape the electorate more favorably to Republicans by making voting more difficult for people who would likely vote Democratic. The goal of the Republicans, though, is to fire up their base in the midterm elections.
The voter fraud campaign began with the election of Barack Obama. We never heard much about widespread fraud before that and the campaign has been brilliant. The idea of an ID to vote sounds neither radical nor offensive, given the number of things that require an ID in today’s world. However, not many people had thought much about voter IDs and for most, it’s not a driving issue.
Republicans, though, know their base. For a subset of Republicans who were shocked and dismayed that a black man could win the presidency, a conspiracy theory that it was stolen by fraudulent votes made sense. (Remember, these are the same people who believe Donald Trump is honest.) In their telling of 2008, those votes would almost certainly have been cast by African-Americans who wanted to ensure Obama won and by illegal immigrants who are here to wreak havoc, not just better their lives. It’s a paranoid fantasy but it’s very much alive.
The fact that nobody’s uncovered widespread fraud, especially any that an ID would have prevented, is beside the point. The GOP has been screaming about stolen elections for a decade now and, by staying on message, they’ve convinced most people that voter ID is a good idea. For the Trump wing of the party it’s a driving issue, another way to stick it the blacks and Hispanics who are such a threat to real Americans.
The problem with voter ID in a state like North Carolina is that the legacy of Jim Crow is still here. We have a lot of older people, especially rural African-Americans, who weren’t born in hospitals and have difficulty coming up with the requirements for an ID. The shame of this legislation is that people who were denied access to the polls because of Jim Crow laws before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 will be denied access again at the end of their lives.
Unfortunately, progressives will lose this battle at the polls. They won’t undo a decade of the voter fraud disinformation campaign and a loud opposition campaign will likely do more to drive out the Republican base than it does the Democratic base. The best Democrats can hope for is to shape what the eventual law looks like. They should focus on winning the election first and fixing what they can when they have power. Right now, they have none.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com, a website of commentary and analysis. Originally published at politicsnc.com.