A Crack in the GOP's Support for Voter-ID Laws

There's little question what the political calculus behind voter-ID laws is. Advocates argue that the laws, which require government photo identification to vote, are necessary to prevent voter fraud—despite there being virtually no evidence that such fraud is a problem. In practice, the laws will disproportionately have an impact on poor people and those of color, two Democratic-leaning groups that are less likely to have such IDs. Predictably, Republicans have been pushing for these laws, while Democrats generally oppose them.

That is, until earlier this week, when Michigan Governor Rick Snyder shot down his own party and vetoed a state voter-ID law. He also vetoed laws that would have made it harder to conduct voter-registration drives and to confirm U.S. citizenship for voters. All three—pushed by Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and sponsored by Republican lawmakers—would likely have dampened turnout, particularly among disadvantaged communities.

During hearings on the measure, protesters stormed the Capitol. "This is a naked assault on that sacred right to vote and to not have unnecessary obstacles placed in their path," said one Democratic state representative.

The governor's press release, titled "Snyder signs most of election reform legislation," shows he wasn't exactly chomping at the bit to make his announcement and in both cases cited "confusion" as the key reason for knocking down the measures.

But in a letter to lawmakers, Snyder expanded his point. "Voting rights are precious," he wrote, "and we need to work especially hard to make it possible for people to vote."

As the latest results from Wisconsin's recall election showed, high turnout does not necessarily help Democrats. Snyder, and others of a more moderate ilk, may recognize that there's no reason Republican candidates shouldn't be reaching out to new voting populations. Keeping voter turnout down is hardly a long-term strategy, and as the Prospect's Jamelle Bouie recently noted, there's a lot of room for Republicans to grow in popularity among nonwhites.

Right now, Snyder stands alone. Last week, New Hampshire's Republican-dominated state legislature overturned a veto from Democratic Governor John Lynch on similar legislation. Several state voter-ID laws are stuck in the courts. But the news from Michigan may help spur others who have wavered on the issue.

The fundamental right to vote should not be a partisan issue, and Snyder's decision may have a welcome ripple effect on others in the GOP who see the troubling implications of these laws.

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