Steve Chapman

Many years ago, as a college Republican, I spent one summer in Austin working for a candidate in a special election for the Texas senate. My hometown was a liberal enclave with many college students -- unwashed, longhaired, pot-smoking students, it seemed to me -- who were predominantly Democrats. The more students who came out to vote the less likely our candidate was to win.

But our campaign strategists came up with a plan. They sent mailings to all the registered voters in precincts near the campus. Many cards came back because the addressee had moved, as college students often do. Voters no longer at the address on file with election authorities were not eligible to vote.

On Election Day, a fellow campaign worker and I went to a polling place to monitor voters. When they gave their names, we checked to see whether their mailings had come back. If so, we lodged an objection. The voters affected were not pleased.

If we had been asked to defend our actions, I imagine we would have come up with something about upholding the law and assuring the integrity of elections. But the people running the campaign never said anything like that.

What they said was that this was a great way to reduce the number of people voting for our opponent.

It didn't help, because he was too popular. But my superiors were not the last Republicans to figure that if you can't get people to vote for you, you can try to keep them from voting at all.

One GOP-dominated state after another has adopted new voter identification requirements in the name of preventing election fraud. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Indiana law requiring anyone who wants to cast a ballot in person to show a driver's license or another approved photo ID.

The odd thing is that two judges who voted to uphold that law later had second thoughts. Federal appeals court Judge Richard Posner said last year he was wrong. Retired Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the Supreme Court opinion, says the court lacked the evidence it needed to overturn the law but now believes the dissenters had the better of the argument.

Fortunately, the legal issue is far from resolved. A federal court in Milwaukee recently struck down a Wisconsin voter ID law. In the Supreme Court case, Judge Lynn Adelman said, those challenging the law failed to provide enough evidence that it put an undue burden on the right to vote. In this case, he said, those challenging the law had evidence galore.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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