In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the Republican-dominated state legislature in Kentucky has chosen to pass a law requiring a government-issued state photo ID before anyone can vote. When Governor Andy Beshear, a Democrat, vetoed the law, the legislature gleefully voted to override it.
“Amazing what a constitutional officer can achieve when he treats the legislature with respect,” tweeted Secretary of State Michael G. Adams, a Republican, in an apparent jab at Beshear after signing the override legislation.
Now, state legislatures have been throwing roadblocks to voting for years. The targets are almost always voters of color, low-income voters, the elderly, students, rural voters, and people with disabilities. So, what’s the big deal with this legislation? Here, this tactic’s insidious nature is shown in the timing and the reason behind it.
Kentucky Republicans claim that voter ID will protect the electorate from voter fraud. Yet, during discussions of the bill, they were unable to cite even one incident of in-person voter fraud in Kentucky, and studies have shown that it is extremely rare nationally.
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The timing of this legislation merits a look for three reasons. First, the country is in the midst of a pandemic. COVID-19 has, in Kentucky as in many other states, forced the closing of many government offices. Among those offices are the very ones where persons seeking government-issued state IDs would need to go in order to get one and be able to vote. What we have here is the perfect Catch-22: a new law requiring government-issued IDs and no way to obtain them.
The second timing issue, also related to the coronavirus, is that the law assumes Kentucky will be conducting an in-person voting election in November. As many states explore vote-by-mail options and ways to make it easier for their citizens to vote, Kentucky seems to be saying its voters will need to show up at the polls. The Kentucky chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is considering legal action “to make sure every eligible voter can still cast a ballot under this oppressive measure.” According to Corey Shapiro, legal director of the ACLU of Kentucky, “This law will make voting more difficult, and potentially dangerous, for any Kentuckian who does not feel safe leaving their home during this pandemic—even for those who currently have a valid photo ID.”
And thirdly, Kentucky Republicans have a number of important races on the ballot in November. Re-electing US Senator Mitch McConnell, the current Senate Majority Leader, has to be at the top of that list as a means of bringing both prestige and bounty to the state, which could have weighed heavily in the decision around when to bring up this state voter ID legislation.
Voting is important. Voting this November will be especially important, as many will be doing so under difficult and different circumstances. As NPQ wrote last week, now more than ever, “we need to both exercise and protect every citizen’s secret superpower—the right to vote.”—Carole Levine