Senator Cornyn: Voter ID Laws are Reasonable, Constitutional, Necessary
by John Cornyn on December 19, 2011 at 7:51 PM
The following op-ed, authored by Senator Cornyn, ran in the Sunday edition of the Austin American-Statesman.
Speaking Tuesday at the LBJ Presidential Library, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder criticized state voter-identification laws designed to prevent fraud. Holder asked: "Are we willing to allow this era our era to be remembered as the age when our nation's proud tradition of expanding the franchise ended?"
I agree with the attorney general that Americans must aggressively uphold the integrity of our electoral process. That is precisely why I support voter-ID laws, which are reasonable, constitutional, and necessary.
Over the past two decades, there have been thousands of allegations of voter fraud throughout the United States. Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now recently pleaded guilty to voter-registration fraud in Nevada, and scores of individuals in Minnesota have been convicted of voter fraud related to the 2008 election.
In a poll conducted in June, an overwhelming majority (75 percent) of registered voters — including 77 percent of independents and 63 percent of Democrats — said that Americans should present photo ID before casting their ballots. To date, 16 different states have enacted a photo-ID mandate, and another 15 states have required voters to show some form of personal documentation, such as a utility bill or a bank statement (though not necessarily a photo ID).
These 31 states include both Republican and Democratic strongholds, along with many swing states. There are only three states (Oregon, Vermont, and Wyoming) that do not have a voter-ID law on the books and did not consider one when their legislatures met in 2011.
Critics of voter-ID statutes claim that they suppress voter turnout, but there is no evidence to support that view. In Georgia, turnout rates have actually gone up since the Peach State adopted a photo-ID law. And according to a 2007 University of Missouri study, "The only consistent and frequently statistically significant impact of photo ID in Indiana is to increase voter turnout in counties with a greater percentage of Democrats relative to other counties"
Some contend that lower-income Americans cannot afford to comply with these laws, but every single state with a photo-ID requirement allows voters to obtain a government-issued photo ID at no charge.
Here in Texas, where the new voter-ID measure is scheduled to take effect on January 1, not only will citizens be able to get a free photo ID, they will also receive provisional ballots if they forget to bring their ID to the polling station. The Texas Secretary of State will be obligated to educate voters about the ID rule, and each Texas county will have to provide multilingual reminders both before and on Election Day. All voters above the age of 70 will be exempt from the requirement, as will all disabled voters.
The Supreme Court has ruled that such laws are constitutional. In 2008, the court upheld Indiana's voter-ID law, which is substantially similar to the Texas law. Writing for the court, Justice John Paul Stevens explained that "the application of the statute to the vast majority of Indiana voters is amply justified by the valid interest in protecting ‘the integrity and reliability of the electoral process.' "
In the face of clear Supreme Court precedent, and despite the fact that lawyers at the Justice Department have not completed their review of voter-ID laws, Holder has publicly compared them to literacy tests and poll taxes. This comparison is outrageous. The attorney general has clearly prejudged voter-ID laws. Even worse, he is sending an unmistakable message to his own department in the midst of their review.
By urging Americans to campaign against voter-ID laws, Attorney General Holder has once again placed himself on the wrong side of a critically important issue, not to mention the wrong side of public opinion. Safeguarding the credibility and soundness of our voting process is vital to the health of American democracy. Does the Attorney General really want us to become a nation where the federal government discourages efforts to preserve electoral integrity?