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The Myths of Voter ID

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Usually when some sententious centrist talks about ending partisan polarization and just coming up with “solutions” based on “data” or “studies” or “expert consensus,” the appropriate response is to roll your eyes — the way people have been eye-rolling lately at Howard Schultz of Starbucks and his apparently substance-free vision for an independent presidential campaign. Usually where you find polarization, you also find some issue of great moment, some important conflict of interests or values, that can’t just be turned over to the smart people to solve because any “solution” would inevitably be a victory for one side and a defeat for the other.

But there are occasional exceptions: Polarizing issues where you could essentially call a truce without anyone winning or losing, without it affecting the balance of power in America’s political debates and culture wars, without anything disappearing except a lot of nonsense, hysteria and panic.

My candidate for the exception is the debate over voter ID laws. For as long as I’ve been politically conscious, conservatives have touted tougher identification requirements at the polls as a means to fight the scourge of voter fraud, and over the last decade Republicans have successfully implemented voter ID laws in a number of reddish states. Over the same period those laws have been cited by liberals as evidence that Republicans are bent on winning elections by disenfranchising Democrats — locking out poor and minority voters in a rerun of the Jim Crow-poll tax era, and electing conservative politicians at the expense of democracy itself.

You could imagine a world in which the voter ID debate reflected a real and sweeping clash of interests. If conservatives were right that the laws reduced rampant voter fraud by preventing illegal immigrants from voting for........

© The New York Times