The Supreme Court recently ruled that states can require citizens to present a picture ID before they vote. Indiana provided the test case, and the rule now is that if voters don’t show a picture ID, they won’t be allowed to vote. The ostensible reason for this requirement is the need to prevent voter fraud. But everyone knows that this isn’t the real reason, and the Justices acknowledged that no evidence of extensive voter fraud in the absence of picture IDs had been presented. In any case, serious fraud isn’t the work of individual voters but of corrupt officials, who won’t find the new requirement an obstacle to miscounting the ballots or counting absent or dead voters (many of whom will have had picture IDs).
The Indiana law reflects a conservative project. The actual reason for requiring the pictures is that there are too many people voting—too many poor people, too many newly enfranchised, too many immigrants. Requiring a picture ID will prevent some of these people, those without a driver’s license or a credit card, from voting. Since it is typically the poorest Americans who don’t have the proper documents, the number of these people who can vote will be reduced. And the quality of the remaining voters will be improved since there will now be fewer voters likely to vote Democratic and proportionally more voters likely to vote Republican.
But this step will bring only a temporary improvement. Soon liberal and left activists will get to work helping disenfranchised citizens get the necessary licenses and credit cards. This will be a new organizing strategy, and it is easy to imagine its success. It may even produce a greater number of voters than before—and the newly documented voters will be more likely than before to vote for the Democrats, who have assisted their enfranchisement.
The real problem for the conservative project is that the democratic equality of one person/one vote is very difficult to overcome…in a democracy. But there is a radical solution to the problem of too many people voting and I am surprised that Republican state officials haven’t thought of it. What we need are two new rules instead of only one. The first is the one that the Justices have just allowed: that citizens must have a picture ID in order to vote. The second is of the same sort: in order to get a picture ID, you must have a picture ID.
Together these two rules will, over time, solve the voting problem entirely.
Michael Walzer is co-editor of Dissent.