“The left is trying to draw votes from illegals, from voter fraud, a lot of different things, so this kind of fits right in to trying to find another group that they can basically count on to vote their way,” DeMint said. “So it’s really a bigger issue, and that’s why the left fights voter ID or any kind of picture ID to know that it is actually a registered voter who’s voting. And so it’s something we’re working on all over the country, because in the states where they do have voter-ID laws you’ve seen, actually, elections begin to change towards more conservative candidates.”
It’s that last part that progressives have seized on—DeMint’s statement that “in the states where they do have voter ID laws you’ve seen ... elections begin to change towards more conservative candidates.” It suggests that the motivation is just what voter-ID opponents have suggested all along.
The rest of DeMint’s comment, though, is equally interesting. It offers a litany of ways he thinks Democrats are trying to steal elections—and frames voter-ID laws as one tactic to fight back. But his examples don’t really hold up. It’s unclear what effect McAuliffe’s move might have in 2016, and Nate Cohn at The Upshot suggests it might be relatively modest. Incarceration rates are widely racially disparate, so that more ex-cons are African Americans, and African Americans tend to vote heavily Democratic. Over the years, the push for felon re-enfranchisement has come from both sides of the aisle—former Senator Rick Santorum backed it during his 2012 presidential run—but Democrats have been especially eager to implement the reform. Some conservatives have been warning for more than a decade that felon re-enfranchisement is a Democratic ploy to win votes, and while it’s hard to imagine there’s no partisan motive involved, that’s not a compelling argument for excluding people from the body politic. DeMint’s comment about “illegals” is probably a reference to the idea that Democrats want to offer citizenship to illegal citizens to win their votes; the fraud question is, again, barely a question.
DeMint isn’t the first person to say something like what he did. “Now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well,” U.S. Representative Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin said the evening of the state’s presidential primary. A former chief of staff for a Republican Wisconsin state senator told The New York Times in a story published Monday that he attended a meeting where GOP lawmakers “were literally giddy” over the suppression effects of the law. The staffer, Todd Allbaugh, says he resigned in disgust.
In summer of 2012, the Republican leader of the Pennsylvania state house said that voter ID “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” (A judge blocked the law, and Obama won the state.) Around the same time, Doug Preisse, the chair of the GOP in Franklin County, Ohio, told The Columbus Dispatch, “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine.”