Both Democrats and Republicans are good at practicing hypocrisy when they need to. But it's still breathtaking to see how some Democrats ignore that it was only last week they argued before the Supreme Court that an Indiana law requiring voters show ID at the polls would reduce voter turnout and disenfranchise minorities. Nevada allies of Hillary Clinton have just sued to shut down several caucus sites inside casinos along the Las Vegas Strip, potentially disenfranchising thousands of Hispanic or black shift workers who couldn't otherwise attend the 11:30 a.m. caucus this coming Saturday.
D. Taylor, the president of the Culinary Workers Union that represents many casino workers, notes that legal complaint was filed just two days after his union endorsed Barack Obama. He says the state teachers union, most of whose leadership backs Mrs. Clinton, realized that the Culinary union would be able to use the casino caucuses to better exercise its clout on behalf of Mr. Obama, and used a law firm with Clinton ties to file the suit.
Mr. Taylor exploded after Bill Clinton came out in favor of the lawsuit on Monday, and Hillary Clinton refused to take a stand. "This is the Clinton campaign," he said. "They tried to disenfranchise students in Iowa. Now they're trying to disenfranchise people here in Nevada." He later told the Journal's June Kronholz, "You'd think the Democratic Party elite would disavow this, but the silence has been deafening." (Late Tuesday the Democratic National Committee quietly filed a motion supporting the Nevada party's rules.)
However, the lawsuit has created an uproar among voters. It was the No. 1 issue among 30 Nevada Democrats participating in a Fox News focus group on Tuesday night; the anger among rank-and-file voters was palpable. The left-wing Nation magazine has denounced the suit as an attempt to "suppress the vote."
The case goes before a federal judge in Las Vegas this morning. Plaintiffs argue that the caucus sites on the Strip unfairly discriminate against other workers on-duty that day. Lynn Warne, president of the teachers union, insists "our only interest is fairness." But instead of seeking additional at-large locations, they want to close down the casino sites.
Backers of the suit claim they didn't learn of the caucus rules until recently, although they were approved at a party convention nine months ago. Nevada Democrats are free to set their own rules for a caucus, which isn't a government-run election. And as in Iowa, the Nevada caucus is designed to be unfair to many people, including those who are out of town, sick or value a secret ballot (since all voting must be public).
But the time to argue about the rules has passed. As Rob Richie, executive director of the liberal group FairVote, says, "You simply don't want to reduce the number of places to vote or do a last-minute change if you want people to participate."
Meanwhile, Democrats will also be asking for identification at caucus sites. The nine at-large casino sites are meant only for workers who can prove they are employed within 2.5 miles of the Strip, an area that Barack Obama notes includes thousands "working at McDonald's" as well as gas stations and bodegas.
Democratic leaders insist workers need only show an employee badge. If they don't have one, a party spokeswoman lamely says "we'll somehow accommodate them." The Las Vegas Review Journal notes "some Strip workers will have no alternative but to provide photo identification." For a party that compares photo ID requirements to Jim Crow poll taxes, even when state governments distribute the IDs for free, the irony is rich.
And it doesn't stop there. Opponents of the Indiana photo ID law used Faye Buis-Ewing, a 72-year-old retiree who had trouble getting a state-issued ID, as a poster child for how the law would block voters. Then it was learned Ms. Buis-Ewing lives most of the year in Florida, has claimed residency there, and was illegally registered to vote in both states. Confronted with these facts, Ms. Buis-Ewing was unrepentant. "I feel like I'm a victim here," she told the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. "I never intended to do anything wrong. I know a lot of people in Florida in this same situation."
She's right. But "snowbird" registrations in multiple states can swing skintight elections, and are a good reason to tighten both identification and absentee ballot laws. In Florida, where the Bush-Gore presidential election was decided by 537 votes, the New York Daily News found in 2004 that between 400 and 1,000 voters registered in Florida and New York City had voted twice in at least one recent election.
Selective outrage, anyone? In 1995, Barack Obama sued Illinois over its voter registration rolls on behalf of the radical group ACORN, and he now rails against Clintonista attempts to shut down Nevada caucus sites and photo ID laws. But just last September, Oprah Winfrey held a lavish fundraiser for Mr. Obama at her California estate. None of the 1,500 guests could enter until they presented a government-issued photo ID that could be compared to a guest list. When asked about this, the Obama campaign had no comment.
Republicans can also be hypocrites, pushing photo ID laws while downplaying the larger issue of fraud linked to absentee ballots, which are popular with their suburban voters.
Meanwhile, voters are increasingly concerned about all kinds of ways to undermine ballot-box integrity. A new Rasmussen poll finds that 17% of Americans think large numbers of legitimate voters are prevented from voting and 23% believe many illegal votes are cast.
After the 2000 Florida recount debacle, Congress compromised when it passed the Help America Vote Act. Sen. Chris Dodd, its Democratic co-sponsor, hailed it as both "making it easier to vote and harder to cheat." But the law's limited reach needs to be extended at both the federal and state level. Here's hoping both parties are so tired of this year's partisan wrangling that next year Congress can reach for Sen. Dodd's twin goals.