Cool down the rhetoric

Published 11:05 pm Friday, August 24, 2012

Now that the U.S. Department of Justice has cleared the way for enforcement of Virginia’s new voter identification law, prepare for the cries of injustice and stories of persecution that will spring up the day after the November election like toadstool fairy rings in a meadow following a springtime thunderstorm.

Set aside the fact that it’s something of a misnomer to even refer to the legislation as a voter ID law, as it stops short of requiring voters to show any form of actual identification and allows a broad range of quasi-official documents to serve as proof of identity. In pursuit of the supposed moral high ground, those who oppose the whole concept of protecting the legitimacy of American elections have surely ignored the fact that Virginia passed, at best, a watered-down version of the legislation.

Thousands of Virginia voters, they claim, will be disenfranchised by the new law. That claim assumes there are thousands of Virginia voters who have no driver’s license, no student identification, no workplace identification, no Social Security card, no voter registration card, no utility bills, no paycheck stubs, no bank statements and no government checks they can show to election officials to “prove” their identities.

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The simple fact that Gov. Bob McDonnell issued an executive order requiring that every active voter in the state be mailed a new voter registration card should meet the ID requirement for the overwhelming majority of voters. It seems hard to imagine ANY registered voter who could survive today with none of the secondary sources of identification. It strains credulity to suggest there are enough such people to constitute a special class that could then claim to have been discriminated against by the new legislation.

Despite the overheated rhetoric of those who fought the legislation and continued to oppose it after McDonnell’s moderating touches, even the Department of Justice — which falls under the direction of the Obama administration and has made it a priority to overturn what it considers to be onerous new voter requirements around the nation — failed to find anything nefarious happening in Virginia.

Having signed off on the commonwealth’s plan, Justice officials echoed the sentiments of the political class’s more levelheaded officials, like Tim Kaine, the Democratic candidate for Virginia’s soon-to-be-vacant seat in the U.S. Senate. Though he did not approve of the original bill, Kaine said in a visit to Suffolk on Wednesday, “The changes Gov. McDonnell made, I approve.”

Whether there have been 10 people illegally voting in Virginia or 10,000, it’s easy to imagine that the problem will grow as the commonwealth’s population grows and becomes ever more politically polarized. Moderate steps to protect the electoral process are, therefore appropriate and — as reasonable people including Justice Department officials and top Democrats have agreed — equitable.

But don’t expect those facts to cool down the rhetoric.