ThinkProgress filed this report from the Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Florida.
For the past year (and arguably long before that), conservatives have been working tirelessly to restrict access to the ballot box. In states from Ohio to Florida to Texas, Republican lawmakers have passed legislation to curb early voting and put onerous limits on voter registration drives.
Perhaps most prevalent, however, have been GOP attempts to implement photo ID laws. They have enjoyed success in seven states thus far, thanks in large part to model legislation from the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council.
Last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) proposed taking these restrictions a step further by voicing his support for a national voter ID law to require that all citizens provide photo identification at the polls, regardless of their state’s law.
ThinkProgress spoke with presidential candidate and former pizza executive Herman Cain about the proposal following Monday night’s debate in Florida. Cain, who regularly references his adherence to the Constitution on the stump, ignored the fact that elections are traditionally overseen by states and backed Graham’s proposal, calling it “something [he] could support.” Cain then went on to compare the right to vote with photo ID requirements to board an airplane:
KEYES: What do you make of Lindsey Graham’s call for a national voter ID law?
CAIN: I didn’t know he had called for a national voter ID law.
KEYES: Is that something you would support? Requiring all voters to have a photo ID at the polls?
CAIN: Now that sounds like something I could support, without looking at it in detail, and here’s why. If you need a picture to get on an airplane, why shouldn’t you need one in order to be able to vote?
REPORTER: What about students living on college campuses not in their hometown but voting where they’re living at now?
CAIN: […] I favor more honest elections, and if a picture ID helps to achieve that, I could go along with a picture ID.
Voting is not like getting on an airplane — flying is not the basis of our government’s legitimacy. Our country was built upon a foundation of “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” and that includes people who are unable to obtain a photo ID.
Cain’s support for a national voter ID law is just a small part of a larger right-wing campaign against voting rights, which Rolling Stone explored in depth:
Republicans have long tried to drive Democratic voters away from the polls. “I don’t want everybody to vote,” the influential conservative activist Paul Weyrich told a gathering of evangelical leaders in 1980. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” But since the 2010 election, thanks to a conservative advocacy group founded by Weyrich, the GOP’s effort to disrupt voting rights has been more widespread and effective than ever. In a systematic campaign orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council – and funded in part by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who bankrolled the Tea Party – 38 states introduced legislation this year designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process.
Earlier this year, Newt Gingrich even floated the idea of reinstating the poll test – a Jim Crow law used for years to suppress minorities – as a prerequisite for voting. Similarly, voter ID laws have the potential to disenfranchise a staggering number of voters, especially minorities.
The former House speaker’s proposal was widely panned for its obvious discriminatory nature. Cain and Graham’s idea to have a national voter ID law ought to receive a similar fate.