A victory for fair elections
The 4th U.S. Court of Appeals strikes a blow for common sense
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.