At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing regarding how to reinstate provisions of the Voting Rights Act that were recently struck down by the Supreme Court, a top Republican senator indicated that the price of restoring the Act will be creating a special protection for certain state laws that could prevent thousands of minority citizens from casting a ballot. In his opening statement at the hearing, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said that any legislative fix to the Supreme Court’s decision “should not threaten common-sense measures to ensure the integrity of voting, such as constitutional voter identification laws.”
This statement builds upon a prior statement Grassley made shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision. In June, Grassley said that, while he is “open to looking at ways to address the issues addressed in the court’s decision,” he also believed that the Justice Department misused the Voting Rights Act when it blocked voter ID laws. His comment today, which occurred in the context of a list of limits he believes Congress must be cognizant of if it reinstates the Act, is his strongest statement to date indicating that he believes the new law must contain a carve out ensuring that voter ID laws will not be blocked, no matter how severe their impact on minority voters.
In reality, voter ID laws are anything but common sense. Although Grassley claims that they are necessary to preserve voter “integrity” — i.e. to prevent people from showing up at the polls and pretending to be someone else — in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent. Indeed, one study found that just 0.0023 percent of votes are the product of such fraud. Thus, a person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit fraud at the polls.
What voter ID laws do accomplish, however, is disenfranchising thousands of voters from populations that are disproportionately unlikely to have ID. These include people of color, but also low-income voters and students — all of which are groups that tend to vote for Democrats over Republicans. While studies differ on how many voters will be denied the right to vote by a voter ID law, conservative estimates suggest that between 2 to 3 percent of registered voters are disenfranchised by these laws. Moreover, according to New York Times numbers guru Nate Silver, had Pennsylvania’s voter ID law been in full effect in 2012, “I estimate that this would reduce President Obama’s margin against Mitt Romney by a net of 1.2 percentage points.”
Indeed, earlier this week, Pennsylvania’s Republican Party Chair Rob Gleason admitted in a television interview that voter ID “helped a bit” in reducing Obama’s margin against Romney. Before the election, Pennsylvania House Leader Mike Turzai (R-PA) predicted that voter ID “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Pennsylvania never got to find out if Turzai was correct, however, because of a state court decision blocking most of the law from taking effect last November.
Now, however, Grassley wants to make giving special protection to Turzai’s plan to help improve Republican’s chances in elections a condition of reinstating one of the nation’s most important voting rights laws. In order to restore a law preventing discrimination against minority voters, Congress would have to greenlight Republican lawmakers’ leading method of discriminating against minority voters.