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July 05, 2012 2:21 PM Good for Michigan Governor Rick Snyder

By Harold Pollack

Republican politicians across the nation are pushing voter ID laws and similar measures ostensibly designed to thwart (the largely fictional problem of) voter fraud. Despite various flimsy justifications offered, most of these new laws are obviously intended to prevent or to hinder voting among traditional Democratic constituencies, particularly low-income people, the less-educated, and nonwhites. Various Republican politicians have said as much, occasionally captured through incautious comments captured on video or the occasional cellphone recording. When laws are enacted on a partisan basis which allow (to take one obvious Texas example) prospective voters to use concealed weapon permits but not state university photo id cards, we’re long past the point of pretending this is a cute inside-baseball story.

It’s natural to view these efforts as continuations of GOP race-pandering from the “southern strategy” to Willy Horton. This might be unfair. Maybe these voter ID laws just reflect the more bipartisan tradition of election-stealing we’ve seen before, certainly here in Chicago.

Whichever–it’s disgusting to seek political advantage by preventing other people from lawfully voting. Such tactics undermine Americans’ confidence in the legitimacy of our political process. The also unavoidably stain Republicans’ reputation and legacy, as that party continues its post-1964 self-deportation from a position of respect within minority communities.

Some GOP politicians have chosen a more decent path. Florida’s Governor Crist did the decent thing regarding felony enfranchisement. (His clownish successor, Rick Scott, is another matter.) Now Michigan governor Rick Snyder has done the decent thing, too. He surprised and disappointed many Michigan Republicans by refusing to sign similar bills. As Eric Kleefeld described in TPM:

One measure would have required voters to reaffirm that they are U.S. citizens, and would have instituted photo-ID requirements for voters receiving an absentee ballot at a local government office. Another would have required training for people, companies and organizations participating in voter registration. The Grand Rapids Press reports that Republicans in the legislature argued that the measures were needed to combat voter fraud, while Democrats charged that the bills would unfairly target poor, minority and elderly people who favor the Democratic Party.

The New York Times’ Steven Yaccino rightly observed: “The vetoes are an election-year rarity for the party, which has pressed for tougher voter identification laws nationwide.”

Good for Governor Snyder. I don’t know that much about him or whether this was a profitable political move. It was a rare honorable move in a pretty dirty campaign season.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.