Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015 | 2 a.m.
As the state’s top election official, Barbara Cegavske, Nevada’s newly elected secretary of state, supports a proposal that would require voters to show identification at the polls. Republicans in the Legislature also support the plan.
At first glance, it sounds smart. People should show some sort of proof of who they are before they vote, shouldn’t they?
But ask a few questions about the proposed voter ID law, and you’ll see another side of the issue.
What problem does this fix?
That is a question proponents of voter ID laws have a difficult time answering.
Every election, there are whispers of deceit and full-throated rants of fraud: “Noncitizens are voting! Election machines are changing votes! Elections are being stolen!” But the idea that there have been massive waves of voter fraud undermining the system is laughable.
And here’s the irony: Republicans, who have complained about alleged problems with the integrity of the election system, were swept to office. Was that fraud?
Will the proposal prevent voter fraud?
State and local officials already have a series of tools to help prevent and detect voter fraud, and they appear to work. For example, voter lists are checked regularly to remove people who shouldn’t be there, and at the polls, voters’ signatures are checked. Is that enough?
Perhaps politicians forgot that in 2012, a registered Republican tried to vote twice to prove how easy it was. Instead, she was stopped before she could vote a second time and later arrested and prosecuted. In short: The system worked.
Then why is voter ID being pushed?
That’s the golden question. Republicans say it is common-sense legislation, but they haven’t been able to prove the point.
There is a political reason, though. In states with voter ID laws, minority and elderly voters — many of whom vote Democratic — have been affected because they don’t always have or carry identification with them. If you don’t drive, for instance, you don’t need a driver’s license, the most common form of ID.
The result is that many legally registered voters, who might vote against Republicans, have been denied the opportunity to cast a ballot because they don’t drive or carry identification.
Why is this a rush?
There is no pressing need, but this is a matter of political timing. For the first time in years, Republicans control the Governor’s Office and both chambers of the Legislature. As a result, they could use this opportunity to pursue issues — including legislative redistricting — that could help them in re-election efforts.
The bottom line
Before making voter ID legislation the panacea for a problem that doesn’t exist and in the process creating new problems, such as voter suppression, those pushing the law should be required to prove their case. Where is the problem this will solve? And what will they do to protect the rights of voters who don’t carry identification?
It’s doubtful they can answer either of those questions well.