Meaningful election reform bound to draw opposition
Jimmy Carter's endorsement of a proposed new voter ID requirement did not stop it from coming under attack from some of his natural allies.
"We believe such a requirement would constitute nothing less than a 21st century poll tax," Reps. John Lewis, D-Ga., and John Conyers, D-Mich., wrote in a letter, reflecting the worries of many blacks.
Yet former President Carter, with a history of supporting civil and human rights, backs the recommendation made by an election-reform commission that he co-chaired.
Mr. Carter said he hesitated at first, but decided that the commission's national approach would leave states less room to enact bad ID laws. He mentioned his native Georgia, where a new law requires a voter identification card that costs $20 for five years.
Former Republican Secretary of State James Baker joins Mr. Carter, a Democrat, in heading the private, nonpartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform, which issued 87 recommendations last week.
The commission's ID requirement is intended to prevent fraud. The panel called for a free photo ID card for people without driver licenses and said that "to prevent the ID from being a barrier to voting," states should make efforts "to enfranchise more voters than ever."
Implementing the ID card may be easy compared to some of the other recommendations, such as reconstituting state election management bodies "on a nonpartisan basis." In Alabama, for example, the secretary of state gets her job in a partisan election and county voter registrars are appointed by the governor, state auditor, and secretary of agriculture and industries — all elected as Republicans or Democrats.
For more potential controversy, look at the commission's proposal to centralize voter registration within states and to coordinate all states' voter lists. Such power shifting is never easy.
Election reform doesn't have to be easy to be worthwhile, though. In the 2000 presidential election, accusations of incompetence and partisanship reached all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The election system has not changed much since then.