Voter ID - infringing civil rights?

Alex Slater (who's he? ah, the MD of a leading Democratic communications firm) writes in The Grauniad on the rush by Republican states to disenfranchise the poor and ethnic minorities by imposing ID requirements for voting. So no possible axe to grind there...

Beneath the foam-flecked surface of diatribes against the "racist" approach:

Attorney General Eric Holder summed it up perfectly when he called these voter ID measures the equivalent of a "poll tax", at the NAACP summit in July.
(no evidence of voter fraud, eh, Alex?) there are nuggets of valid concerns:
In Pennsylvania, for example, that means requiring all voters to present very limited types of ID only available from the state's department of transportation. Since many inner-city voters don't drive, or many young voters have out-of-state driver's licenses, these likely Obama voters will all be stopped dead in their tracks before they reach the polling booth.
It would seem quite reasonable that, if a state government requires valid voters to present ID in order to vote, they should make obtaining such ID practically free and as easy as possible. There's going to be no quick way around having to produce a valid birth certification, certificate of naturalisation or similar legal document, though - this is the whole point of voter ID, to have a reliable indicator of a person's appropriate legal status and hence right to vote.

A breath of sanity from VoiceOfWisconsin in the comments:

...the National Conference of State Legislatures says
Identification must satisfy the following:
  • Shows the name of the individual, which must substantially conform to the individual's name on the precinct register
  • Show a photograph of the individual to whom it was issued
  • Be issued by the U.S. government, Commonwealth of PA, a municipality of the Commonwealth to an employee of the municipality, an accredited PA private or public institution of higher learning or a PA care facility
  • Include an expiration date and not be expired (exception for a military ID with an indication that it has an indefinite expiration date or a PA driver's license or non-driver ID card that is not more than 12 months past the expiration date)
This doesn't sound unreasonably restrictive. The most common case cited by those against voter ID laws is that of poor people who can't afford a car and hence have no driving licence (and passports are much rarer in the USA than here). But the DMV offices issue appropriate state ID to non-drivers; even if the nearest DMV is a long way away, the above list gives plenty of alternatives. VoiceOfWisconsin also notes that even without ID you can vote provisionally, as long as you subsequently (within 6 days of voting) appear with a suitable proof of ID.

Mr. Slater also appears to be omitting some relevant stats in his argument as commentator Doyouknowwhat remarks:

"Yet, the purge goes on: the Miami Herald found that 58% of the people in a sample of 2,700 "ineligible" voters were Hispanic, and 14% were black"
I looked at the Miami City demographic, Population: 362,470
Hispanic or Latino(of any race): 238,351 or 65.76%
Black or African American: 80,858 or 22.31%
White alone: 42,897 or 11.83%
So in the process of the purging of the rolls it is clear that Hispanic and African American voters are underrepresented.
The stats look a little out of date, but the 2010 figures for Miami-Dade county indicate the proportions are still the same. That by itself is enough to convince me that Slater is a mendacious weasel and is not to be trusted further than one can throw him.

To be clear, I am 100% sure that the Republican politicians pushing voter ID rules view the disproportionate impact on the Democratic voting base as a feature, not a bug. However plenty of democratic countries in good standing have a similar or even stricter voter ID requirement, so it's not prima facie a wrong-headed plan. The key will be to show that every effort is being made to help the poor get their voter ID as long as they actually have the right to vote.

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