Though he supports voter ID laws writ large, Mitt Romney once offered a strong progressive solution that, if enacted, would likely prevent any eligible citizen from being disenfranchised.
In previously-unnoticed footage from a New Hampshire campaign stop in December, Romney was asked by a Republican primary voter about whether he supported controversial voter ID laws that are spreading across the country. Though he backed such measures, he acknowledged that some people lack photo IDs — over 20 million American citizens, according to the Brennan Center — and proposed a solution that would actually ensure these citizens were guaranteed a vote:
ROMNEY: You can get a photo ID free from your state. Get it at the time you register to vote. […] For people who don’t have photo IDs, we could actually provide them at the voting place. People could come in, give their name, and give them a photo ID. There are ways we could do this that would protect our voting system.
Watch footage from the Londonderry event:
Of course, it’s not entirely clear that Romney understood the significance of his statement when he made it. Nevertheless, if Romney is serious about providing IDs to anyone who shows up at the polls, that would be extremely effective at ensuring voters’ access to the ballot box — even if it would also be an enormous waste of time and money. Every state that currently has strict voter ID laws will turn away voters who don’t already have a voter ID when they show up at the polls. By providing IDs to voters at the polls, states could prevent widespread voter disenfranchisement.
In fact, Romney’s idea is similar to one that was offered by leading progressive officials in Minnesota. Gov. Mark Dayton (D) and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D) proposed outfitting polling locations with an electronic “poll book” where voters who don’t have a photo ID could pull up their electronic information from state records.
Even if Romney’s plan is as simple as he says — giving a poll worker your name and they print you a photo ID, which you then hand back to them in order to vote — that would also prevent disenfranchisement, although by creating a circuitous and wasteful process.
The optimal solution for voter ID is still not to have it. But Romney’s proposal is a major improvement over existing voter ID laws, which would turn away people like 84-year-old former elected official Ruthelle Frank and 93-year-old Thelma Mitchell who cleaned the Tennessee Capitol for 30 years.