A vic­tory for fair elec­tions

The 4th U.S. Court of Ap­peals strikes a blow for com­mon sense

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL -

Vir­ginia and the cause of free and fair elec­tions had a good day last week when a panel of three fed­eral judges unan­i­mously up­held the state’s com­mon-sense vot­ing law re­quir­ing vot­ers to present pho­to­graphic proof of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion to cast their bal­lots.

The judges of the 4th U.S. Court of Ap­peals struck a blow not only for com­mon sense, but a blow against the con­de­scend­ing and dis­re­spect­ful myth that re­quir­ing vot­ers — all vot­ers, black, white, young and old — to show proof of who they are dis­en­fran­chises prospec­tive vot­ers of mi­nori­ties and the poor. This was a needed re­buke to the soft big­otry of low ex­pec­ta­tions.

“Not only does the sub­stance of [the law] not im­pose an un­due bur­den on mi­nor­ity vot­ing,” the judges wrote, “there was no ev­i­dence to sug­gest racially dis­crim­i­na­tory in­tent in the law’s en­act­ment.” The rul­ing was fur­ther a re­buke to state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mark R. Her­ring, a Demo­crat, who had re­fused to de­fend the law in court be­cause he didn’t like the law.

Mr. Her­ring, the state’s top lawyer, is ex­pected to de­fend the Com­mon­wealth of Vir­ginia against all chal­lenges to its laws, but has es­tab­lished a pat­tern of de­fend­ing only laws he agrees with. He re­fused to de­fend the com­mon­wealth’s law defin­ing mar­riage as a con­tract be­tween a man and a woman, for an­other prom­i­nent ex­am­ple. No one twisted his arm to take the job he said he wanted.

Mr. Her­ring’s unique stan­dard re­quires hir­ing other lawyers to do the job he was elected to do. The law es­tab­lish­ing a de­fense of the bal­lot was de­fended ably and suc­cess­fully by Mark Hearne II of the Wash­ing­ton firm of Arent Fox.

The law re­quires vot­ers to present a photo ID but makes pro­vi­sions for vot­ers to ob­tain free photo IDs from the board of elec­tions, and those with­out the re­quired photo-ID can cast a pro­vi­sional bal­lot and present the proper doc­u­ment later, be­fore their vote is counted.

“If Vir­ginia had re­quired vot­ers to present iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with­out ac­com­mo­dat­ing cit­i­zens who lacked them, the rule might ar­guably de­prive some vot­ers of an equal op­por­tu­nity to vote,” the judges held, “but ... Vir­ginia al­lows ev­ery­one to vote and pro­vides free photo IDs to per­sons with­out them.”

Rights come with re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, and it’s not as though would-be vot­ers have to get a new photo ID for every elec­tion. It’s “one and done,” and that doesn’t seem to be ask­ing a lot in the in­ter­est of pre­serv­ing the in­tegrity of elec­tions. The in­tegrity of elec­tions is surely as im­por­tant as buy­ing a bot­tle of beer or a fifth of whisky, a pack­age of cig­a­rettes, rent­ing a car or a ho­tel room, not to men­tion ob­tain­ing a mar­riage li­cense or board­ing an air­line flight. All these trans­ac­tions re­quire pho­to­graphic proof of iden­tity.

Mark Her­ring was elected state at­tor­ney gen­eral in 2013 in the clos­est statewide elec­tion in Vir­ginia his­tory. His mar­gin of vic­tory over state Sen. Mark D. Oben­shain, a Repub­li­can, was a scant 866 votes out of 2.2 mil­lion cast. He is seek­ing re-elec­tion next year, but if he won’t, or can’t, en­force and de­fend all the state’s laws, not just the laws he likes, he could find other clients. He’s sup­posed to be the at­tor­ney gen­eral for all of the peo­ple of Vir­ginia, not just for his friends and fel­low Democrats.

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