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Bridging the divide on voter ID laws

Managing Editor

One of the hottest issues of disagreement this political season is the wave of new laws and proposals in several states, requiring anyone casting a vote to show photo identification.
I’ve been dismayed more than ever during this political season by just how polarized people’s views are. I suspect we’d much better off if Republicans and Democrats attempted to understand one another better.
Perhaps some of the misunderstanding is intentional, used to score political points.  But much of it represents mutually exclusive perspectives. Personally, I’m a firm believer in standing by my own convictions while also trying to appreciate what the other side has to say.
Having honest discussions with people you may not completely agree with is helpful. If nothing else, you have to challenge your own ideas to stand up against theirs, a process that should force you to refine your views and make them more well-defined. You might even find some common ground that will allow you to work together without always agreeing on everything.
On the voter ID issue, I’ve had honest discussions over the years with those who hold strong views on both sides of the issue.
Many Democrats point their fingers at Republicans who tend to support the new laws. Democrats say these measures are actually a sneaky attempt to keep poor and minority voters away from the polls because these groups generally don’t back Republican candidates.
As evidence, these Democrats point to numerous reports indicating a low frequency of voter fraud in this country. Why would Republicans want to stop a crime that isn’t happening?
Meanwhile, Republicans with whom I’ve spoken are aghast that they are being accused of racism on this issue. They’ve been talking for years — long before anyone proposed voter ID laws — about what they believe is widespread voter fraud being perpetrated by Democrats and pro-Democratic Party organizations.
Here’s where the partisans don’t give the other side enough credit and don’t ask enough questions about what some ethically uninhibited members of their own side might be capable of doing.
Many Democrats honestly believe there’s a conspiracy among Republicans to keep poor people and minorities away from the polls. And a few Republicans have done something like that in a few locations — but that hardly adds up to a vast conspiracy and doesn’t prove anything about voter ID laws. In fact, a few Democrats have also been caught doing exactly this sort of thing.
Many Republicans honestly believe there’s a conspiracy among Democrats to steal close elections through fraudulent voting. And a few Democrats have tried to vote extra times or cast a ballot under someone else’s name, but this doesn’t prove the effort is widespread. In fact, a few Republicans have also been caught doing exactly the same thing.
Racially charged issues have always tended to be the most emotional and divisive ones in American politics, and the voter ID issue this year is no exception.
The legislators of Texas added fuel to that fire by passing a voter ID law that specifically required voters to pay for a special ID from the state. Federal courts have struck down that law as little more than a revival of the old poll taxes that the courts previously struck down because they clearly were aimed at suppressing minority voter turnout.
On the other hand, the hue and cry from Democrats about voter ID laws doesn’t make much sense in North Carolina, where Republican legislators have been unable to find a veto-proof measure to pass.
Election boards in every single county in the state are controlled by Democrats. Precinct officials are similarly party appointees. So any voter ID law — at least until such time as the state elects a Republican governor and switches control of election boards — would be enforced by Democrats.
And for the same reason, Republican conspiracies about Democrats doing mischief has more credibility here than in other states, because Democrats do control the elections process in every single county.
Democrats can point to the limited record of arrests for voter fraud in North Carolina, but that’s a lot like the previous Lincoln County sheriff who claimed there were no more meth labs in West Lincoln.
In both cases, the lack of arrests only means the people in charge aren’t making arrests. It doesn’t mean no crimes are being committed.
Republicans also are justified in wondering why the Democrats set up a system, unrivalled in state government, guaranteeing the party that controls the governorship such broad powers over safeguarding the process.
If Democrats aren’t cheating to start with, why won’t they support a voter ID law to block cheating in North Carolina, Republicans ask?
The ball is in the Democrats’ court on that question, but North Carolina Democrats haven’t yet offered the best answer — not to grandstand and use voter ID as a wedge issue,  but to say, “Prove to us that you can create a voter ID law that won’t impose an unfair burden on legally registered voters of color and, even if we don’t think there’s much voter fraud going on, we’ll back it to give everyone peace of mind and show that we aren’t hiding anything.”
Then Republicans would be forced to respond in good faith. Include measures in a voter ID bill to protect the rights of poor and minority voters and the Democrats will have no credible reason to oppose it.
That would make sense and would represent the two parties agreeing to disagree, burying their mutual conspiracy theories so we can have a state election system safeguarded against abuse — ensuring that neither too many nor too few voters are able to participate.
But if the two sides just want a wedge issue to squabble about, then they’ll keep doing what they’re doing now.
Frank Taylor is managing editor of the Lincoln Times-News.


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