Gonna seize this opportunity to re-up my theory from Friday that voter-rights advocates like Stacey Abrams are finally ready to take the off-ramp on opposing voter ID and they’re using Joe Manchin’s Senate bill to do it. Photo ID as a requirement to vote is hugely popular across parties and Abrams knows it, but until recently she’s treated most voter ID laws as thinly veiled attempts at voter suppression. Being chronically on the wrong side of an 80/20 issue was doubtless holding popular acceptance of her agenda back.
So why remain on that side? Especially since the data shows that voter ID laws affect turnout negligibly or not at all.
The political problem for Abrams was that voter ID laws are associated with the GOP and she couldn’t comfortably endorse a Republican preference on elections. Manchin has now solved that problem for her by making national voter ID a key concession in his proposed grand bargain on voting, which Abrams has said she supports. She can embrace voter ID by supporting a Democratic bill in this case *and* look like a leader doing it, giving Manchin’s proposal an important vote of confidence from a prominent progressive activist on the issue.
If that’s her play, new polling from Monmouth today shows it’s a smart one. Americans love voter ID laws, and not just Republicans.
Take a guess what the racial breakdown on that question is. Given how often Democratic politicians equate laws tightening voting rules with Jim Crow, you might expect heavy support for voter ID laws among whites and only tepid support, or even opposition, among minorities. But you’d be wrong. Monmouth has whites split 77/21 and nonwhites approaching unanimity at 84/13. The same is true when we look at income, with a larger share of those who earn less than $50,000 per year in favor of voter ID (81 percent) than those who make more than $100,000 (76 percent). Opposing these laws isn’t a winner even within Abrams’s own coalition. It’s a boutique issue for woke white liberals.
And even liberals support photo ID for voting in this poll on balance, 56/39.
There’s some fine print in Manchin’s bill that may also help explain why Abrams is keen on it as a compromise. It’s true, as I’ve said, that the bill would make voter ID mandatory in federal elections in all 50 states. It is not true that it would insist on photo ID, which is what Monmouth asked about in its poll. Manchin’s bill is quite a bit more lax on which forms of identification will suffice. Maybe that’s why Abrams is warm to it and why Republicans are destined to be chilly.
The difference is that Mr. Manchin’s bill wouldn’t require photo ID. Anyone would be permitted to vote by showing a utility bill, a form of ID that only 15 states (including West Virginia) accept. Anyone with a color printer can forge a utility bill. In 2012 Patrick Moran, son of then-Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia, was forced to resign as his father’s field director after the filmmaker James O’Keefe caught him on videotape saying: “They can fake a utility bill with ease.” (Patrick Moran told Politico he thought Mr. O’Keefe was “joking” and quit to avoid becoming a “distraction.”)
A study by economist John Lott finds that 46 of 47 European countries require government-issued photo ID to vote. The exception is Great Britain (although not Northern Ireland): Last month Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government said it would make photo IDs mandatory in response to a 2016 Royal Commission report. As the BBC summarized it, “authorities are turning a blind eye to electoral corruption in the UK because of a desire for political correctness.”
Manchin’s bill would also require all states to allow for voting by mail, although only when a resident has an excuse preventing them from voting in person. (Presumably states will be permitted to allow no-excuse absentee voting as well if they so choose.) Monmouth had two interesting results on that:
The parties split sharply but not symmetrically on whether mail voting should be easier, with more than a quarter of Republicans supporting it. That plus overwhelming Democratic support is enough to form a majority in favor. The more striking numbers are in the second question, though, where even a majority of GOPers support national guidelines on early and mail voting. That conflicts with Senate Republicans’ stated reason for opposing Manchin’s bill, which is that it would constitute a federal takeover of elections that are traditionally run by the states. The GOP base evidently doesn’t share that objection even at a moment when Democrats are in total control of the federal government. McConnell’s going to have to work harder on messaging to signal to them that federal election oversight is very much a lib position.
By the way, Monmouth found that 57 percent of Republicans believe Biden won due to voter fraud rather than fair and square. (Overall, 61 percent of Americans believe it was fair and square.) Even among the “stop the steal” crowd, though, opinion is split over whether the GOP should continue to litigate the matter. Thirty-one percent say they’ll never accept Biden as president but 23 percent say it’s time to move on. We’ll see what those numbers look like down the road when the partisan audit in Arizona or some other state inevitably claims evidence of fraud and Trump starts amplifying their finding.