Voter ID laws got some of the worst press of their short lives this week, denounced by a famous judge whose decision once upheld them in court, and defended publicly by a now-disgraced, bigoted party official.
Judge Richard Posner, whose 2007 decision upheld a pioneering Indiana voter ID law, has apologized, calling it “a law now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than fraud prevention.” Even at the time, Judge Terence Evans’ dissenting opinion stated confidently, “Let’s not beat around the bush: The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by folks believed to skew Democratic.”
That thin veil was seemingly lifted this week when Republican precinct chairman Don Yelton spoke on the Daily Show about how voter ID laws are supposed to work. Saying unequivocally that voter ID laws are meant to “kick the Democrats in the butt,” and would keep “lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything” from voting, Yelton admitted he’s been called a “bigot” and used the N-word unapologetically while asking why only blacks are allowed to say it. He held onto his job for approximately 12 hours after the interview aired.
The cat may be out of the bag on the intent of voter ID legislation, but after such laws were legally validated, by first Judge Posner, then by the Supreme Court, they still stand a strong chance of sticking around. Elections will now become the testing ground for the true impact of these laws, and of voters’ capacity for overcoming the challenges that they present.