It Is What It Is: Poll Reveals Fundamental, Permanent National Divide on Voter ID

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[Image courtesy of The Fix]

A new poll reveals just how deeply the voter ID debate has penetrated and divided America. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake took a closer look in “The Fix” blog:

A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute asked people which they thought was a bigger problem: voter fraud or voter disenfranchisement. Forty percent of Americans said the former, while 43 percent said the latter — about an even split.

And as you might expect, there’s a pretty big partisan split. While 68 percent of Republicans say ineligible voters casting ballots is a bigger problem, 64 percent of Democrats say eligible voters being denied the ability to do so is the prevailing issue.

But what’s striking is how deeply this split manifests itself and is mirrored in voters’ choice of media:

Perhaps the most interesting numbers: Among people who say Fox News Channel is their most trusted media outlet, 76 percent say voter fraud is the bigger issue, while just 12 percent cite disenfranchisement. Among CNN and public television viewers, the split is in favor of disenfranchisement by double digits. [I can only guess what MSNBC’s numbers would have looked like – ed.]

The split also has a significant race and age component:

Among whites, it’s 49 to 33 in favor of voter fraud. Among nonwhites, it’s 63 to 22 in favor of disenfranchisement. (Democrats allege that voter ID laws are tailored toward helping the GOP — in particular by making it more difficult for minorities who might not have ID to vote.)

Adults younger than 30 favor voter disenfranchisement as the bigger problem by a margin of 63 to 28; seniors favor voter fraud, 49 to 25.

If they haven’t already, election officials and policymakers have to consider these numbers – and the divide they describe – as a fixture in our nation’s culture for the foreseeable future. Elections come and go, and majorities are created and replaced, but this fundamental split on the relative threats of fraud and disenfranchisement will continue to thrive.

What does this mean for the future of the voter ID debate? For one thing, it means old tactics like denying the existence of fraud or appealing to courts on principle about the effects of voter ID are likely to fall on deaf ears. At the same, it means that claims that voter ID doesn’t affect anyone or will have limited effect will engender strong resistance from the large numbers of Americans who worry about disenfranchisement.

If you ask me, both sides in the current debate have an opportunity to get what they want by making sure that wherever voter ID exists or is enacted, there are strong provisions (and a sufficient timeline and funding) for eligible voters without the proper ID to get it.

As I’ve said many times, the voter ID debate – at least in the courts – is no longer about “should voters have to show ID?” it’s “do eligible voters have – and can they get – ID in time to vote?” To the extent that the parties are interested in actually addressing (and not merely arguing about) ID, this is a promising way forward. [NOTE: I strongly expect “to the extent” in the current environment to be at or very near zero.]

Another unfortunate side effect of this unresolved, deep divide on voter ID is that election officials (who quite literally have no stake or interest in the issue) will have to cope with the effects of the ongoing fight – uncertainty about laws, litigation delays and most of all loud declarations about the prevalence of fraud and disenfranchisement – that have nothing to do with how they do their jobs.

That said, this poll suggests that the voter ID debate is what it is – and isn’t going anywhere. Like it or not (chalk me up as “not”) the field will have to find a way to navigate this divide not just in the run-up to 2016 but likely well beyond.

Yay. [Stay tuned …]

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