A Republican congressman from Indiana has introduced a bill to establish a nationwide photo ID requirement for voters—perhaps the top item on the wish-list of those who favor more restrictive voting policies.
The legislation comes after a year of false claims by President Donald Trump and other top Republicans about rampant voter fraud.
Rep. Luke Messer’s bill, announced April 17, would require voters to show a passport, driver’s license, state ID, or military ID. It appears to bar expired IDs, but allows states to add other forms of government-issued identification to the list of acceptable IDs.
Messer’s office says the bill is modeled on Indiana’s voter ID law, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008, paving the way for numerous other states to pass voter ID. But since then, two of the judges who upheld the law — Richard Posner, an appeals court judge, and John Paul Stevens, then a Supreme Court Justice—have suggested that they erred in doing so. Posner has called voter ID laws “a means of voter suppression rather than fraud prevention.”
Under Messer’s measure, voters without an acceptable ID could still vote only if they signed an affidavit at the polls saying they couldn’t afford the cost of an ID. That appears to do nothing for the many voters who can’t get an ID for reasons other than cost — for instance, those who face bureaucratic hurdles. Having to publicly declare one’s self too poor to afford an ID also could intimidate or deter some would-be voters.
A 2011 study by the Brennan Center for Justice concluded that under case law at the time, states must make free IDs available to all voters who don’t have them, not just those who swear they’re too poor to afford them.
The court rulings issued since that study appeared have tended to be more skeptical, not less, of voter ID laws. A federal judge last year ordered Texas to include an affidavit option for voters unable to get ID for any reason.
Asked by The Daily Democracy whether there were plans for Messer’s bill to receive a hearing, a spokeswoman for the House Administration Committee didn’t immediately respond.
Messer’s authorship of the ID bill could help him in the Republican primary for the 2018 U.S. Senate race in Indiana, which he appears likely to enter.
Messer’s top likely opponent is former secretary of state Todd Rokita, the author of the state’s voter ID law. Rokita has said he favors a nationwide voter ID requirement. And polls suggest Republican voters strongly back voter ID laws.
President Trump’s efforts to stoke fear over illegal voting have added to the salience of the issue among Republicans. Both before and after last year’s election, Trump has falsely claimed illegal voting was widespread.
Earlier this year, Trump’s White House announced a task force to study voter fraud. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has said a nationwide voter ID requirement might be the solution.
Messer’s bill has largely flown under the national radar since being announced. Let America Vote, the pro-voting group launched recently by Jason Kander, the Democratic former secretary of state of Missouri, was among the first to flag it last week.
“Congressman Messer’s inability to justify a real need for voter ID laws leaves only the reality that he wants to make it harder for people to vote to help advance his political career,” Kander said in a statement.