The debate on the Photo ID bill was full of rhetoric–Republicans claiming it would prevent voter fraud, Democrats saying it would prevent people (that is, Democrats) from voting. The Ds, who had hoped to pick up some Republican votes, came to view it as an issue for base voters who believe that illegal immigrants are voting, or being impersonated. But some Republicans see restrictions on voting as a general election issue that benefits them, not just because Democratic turnout may be suppressed, but also because they regard it as an issue that can be used against Ds in swing districts.
“For three sessions we have sat here while the Democrats have made us cast terrible vote after terrible vote,” one Republican told me. “Now we have an issue we can use against them. Ninety percent of the people don’t think there’s anything wrong with having to prove that you are who you say you are before you can vote.” The statement was rhetorical, not necessarily factual, but the point is well taken. The same is true with the other voter “fraud” bill, which requires proof of citizenship before you can register to vote. This bill hasn’t reached the House floor yet, but it will. The problem is that it puts a hurdle on registration that isn’t easy to clear; you have to have to be able to prove that you’re a citizen, which means that you have to have a birth certificate or a passport or citizenship papers. These are not easy to obtain. A birth certificate must be obtained from the state Department of Health and they cost $22 and they take some time. A passport requires a birth certificate and costs even more. This renders volunteer voter registration drives virtually useless. Which is the idea behind the bill. But for the average member of the public, who is told that citizenship is a requirement of voting, there is nothing wrong with asking people to prove their citizenship. The ease of explaining why these bills are good bills, and the difficulty of explaining why they might not be, is why Republicans think they have some ammo they can use against Democrats at last.