Voter ID Law Is a Republican Power Play

How will a Republican-controlled Carson City operate? If a new voter ID law passes, we’ll have a pretty good idea.

Illustration by Cierra Pedro

Illustration by Cierra Pedro

If you have even the slightest interest in Nevada politics, you’ve undoubtedly followed the embarrassment known as the Assembly’s Republican caucus, featuring Ira Hansen’s demotion all the way from speaker to assistant leader for writing racist articles; Michele Fiore’s insistence that she’s majority leader even when she isn’t; Fiore’s surprise that new speaker-designate John Hambrick doesn’t follow orders she has no authority to give; and the rise into leadership of Jim Wheeler, who said he would vote for slavery, if that’s what his constituents wanted.

But let’s forget about all that nonsense for a moment. What really matters is what Republicans will do now that they have the power to choose these kinds of leaders. New GOP Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske’s support for voter ID laws suggests an answer. (Cegavske insists she’s concerned about voter fraud, which has so marred Nevada elections that an Internet search revealed two cases of it in six years—both involving Republicans.)

Will Cegavske be successful in getting the Legislature to pass a new voter ID law? If fellow Nevada Republicans believe in it, it would take only a simple majority vote in both houses. If it were to pass, would Brian Sandoval sign it? Well, the national Republican Party supposedly views our governor as one of the leading lights on Hispanic outreach—except that Hispanics would certainly get caught in the crosshairs of any legislation that makes it tougher to vote.

So there’s a good chance Sandoval knows it’s a terrible idea, even though he told Jon Ralston in 2012, “I support a voter ID law in Nevada.” Still, would he have the guts to veto a measure backed by an overwhelming majority of Republicans? Yes, under two circumstances. One, if he definitely isn’t running against U.S. Senator Harry Reid in 2016—and he almost certainly isn’t—and he’s instead setting his sights on a federal judgeship, or Cabinet or sub-Cabinet position, which would enable him to do as he wishes; otherwise, why would he openly go against his party’s wishes?

The other way in which Sandoval might reach for his veto stamp is if he paused and considered the facts. For instance, the League of Women Voters—which Steve Scalise, the House Republican whip who plays footsie with white supremacists, calls a liberal group even though it isn’t—and the American Civil Liberties Union have insisted any bill on the subject of voter IDs must be fiscally supported. That’s because the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bans poll taxes. In other words, someone would have to pay for voter IDs and for the personnel needed to check them.

Pushing her agenda, Cegavske told MSNBC: “We do have a fund in our DMV that provides for the homeless, which is I think very helpful. And there are organizations that help seniors out. So I don’t think we’d be a state that would struggle.”

Actually, the DMV requires a declaration of homelessness, and not every organization helps seniors get ID cards. But what if you aren’t homeless, you don’t need an ID card except to vote, or you’re on a fixed income? If you’re a Republican and believe charitable organizations such as churches should tend to social welfare, why would you add this burden to them?

Perhaps everyone would be wise to remember the argument by Richard Posner, the widely respected federal judge appointed by noted lefty Ronald Reagan. Dissenting from the 7th Circuit’s refusal to hear a further challenge to Wisconsin’s voter ID law, Posner eviscerated every imaginable pro-voter ID argument, from stopping fraud to protecting absentee ballots. Posner called voter ID laws what they are: “a mere fig leaf for efforts to disenfranchise voters” (You can and should hit up Google and read Posner’s entire opinion).

So, if Nevada Republicans think the only way to keep power is to disenfranchise voters, they are merely asking to be compared with Scalise’s friends. They’re also being silly: As the turnout in November’s election demonstrated, Republicans don’t need to disenfranchise voters; Nevadans and their fellow Americans are perfectly willing to disenfranchise themselves.

Michael Green is an associate professor of history at UNLV.