As 34 states rollout new voter photo ID laws this year, this presidential election will mark a frightening turn in American political campaigns: moving the emphasis from voter turnout to voter turn-away.
The media is rightly questioning whether these new laws will leave millions of citizens without the adequate identification needed to vote in their state.
But the media has ignored an equally ominous issue: who determines if the person showing the ID card is the same person in the photo?
Even with valid drivers licenses or other unimpeachable legal ID cards, photos can be very poor. Some drivers’ licenses were issued a decade or more ago. People add or lose weight, grow or shave beards, cut or color hair, add or do away with glasses, and age. And we know that government-issued photos are never kind.
Yet somebody at the polling sign-in table is going to have to make a very subjective judgment as to whether the person in your photo ID is you. Imagine the arguments that can (and will) ensue.
And image how long that could delay voting and deter people who are waiting in line.
Remember the 2000 Florida recount and how aggressive Republican attorneys were able to endlessly delay the process by challenging almost every ballot?
How it will look
Now flash forward to your local polling place, circa 2012. A handful of well-meaning (and often elderly) poll workers are trying to process a long line of voters when party-affiliated “observers” begin questioning and challenging photos.
The poll workers are intimidated and confused; they honestly don’t know what to do. Loud and aggressive observers are demanding they closely check the photos against the actual person.
Someone is told that their ID doesn’t look like them. “That’s not you,” someone blurts out. The offended voter protests and demands to speak to a supervisor. The poll workers try to phone someone someplace for guidance, but none is forthcoming.
Meanwhile, voters on the long line grow impatient as line movement comes to a grinding halt. People at the head of the lines are yelling at each other. Police show up, but they have no idea what their role should be.
Frustrated voters already late for work start peeling off the line. By early afternoon, the media is flooded with reports of incidents and long voter lines, causing even more young and/or lightly-motivated Obama voters to skip their planned stop at the polls.
And tens of thousands of registered voters with valid ID self-select not to vote after all.
Prediction or paranoia?
If you think this is nothing but hyperbolic liberal paranoia, just wait.
And if Mitt Romney “wins” Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia, Wisconsin, or Florida by razor slim margins, look out. It will be Bush v. Gore to the tenth power.
Whoever prevails legally will be delegitimized from the start. And may never recover.
And that will just be the pilot run. If it works, the art of American politics will quickly shift from voter turnout to turn-away.
And if that becomes the art of campaign victory, everyone loses.