The bill was sold as a means of deterring vote fraud, but that is a phony argument. There is no evidence that a significant number of people are showing up at the polls pretending to be other people, or that a significant number of noncitizens are voting.
The actual reason for this bill is the political calculus that certain kinds of people — the poor, minorities, disabled people and the elderly — are less likely to have valid ID. They are less likely to have cars, and therefore to have drivers’ licenses. There are ways for nondrivers to get special ID cards, but the bill’s supporters know that many people will not go to the effort if they don’t need them to drive.
How many people vote without an ID? I had trouble finding national numbers, but I did find this at the Washington Post:
In the 2004 election, about 150,000 Georgians voted without producing government-issued identification.
That's not a small number of people, and yet there's little evidence that voter fraud related to voters without IDs is even a small problem. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that's probably because it's not a problem.
The reason you can tell Republicans are somewhat less than sincere about this "threat to the Republic" (as one House member refers to it in the NPR story) is because when you try to get them to talk about voter machine fraud, you get a giant ho-hum, despite repeated, documented problems with automated voting (via ACSBlog):
It's just that I get the feeling that if an election were held in Beirut tomorrow it might go more smoothly than the election in Baltimore City and Montgomery County, Maryland has run today. What's happening, you wonder? Well, in Montgomery County, a suburb of Washington, D.C. where the most affluent and well-educated voters in the state live, the electronic voting machines that were shoved down the throats of Maryland residents (no paper trail, remember) arrived at the polling places, missing the essential ATM-like key cards needed to enable each voter to cast a ballot. Huh? Someone forgot to pack the cards?
At polling places all over the City, when machines malfunctioned or didn't arrive, voters were told to vote using provisional ballots (even though those ballots won't be counted for another week, if at all). At still another location, the voters couldn't use the provisional ballots because none of the election judges had thought to bring pencils. In many locations, election judges -- mostly elderly volunteers -- expressed frustration at the training they'd received. Training had emphasized the possibility of voter fraud, rather than how to master the new machines.
And yet among House Republicans, this isn't even an issue.
Here's my proposal. The Republicans can have their voter IDs when they follow in the footsteps of Republican Governor of Maryland Robert Ehrlich and get serious about fixing the myriad problems with electronic voting machines, and especially the ridiculously bad Diebold machines. When they feel like getting serious about that, we'll talk about the 45 illegal immigrants who got away with voting in Georgia in 2004.