Real Talk from Michael Steele on Voter ID Laws

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 15 2012 3:43 PM

Real Talk from Michael Steele on Voter ID Laws

I spent part of the morning at the Atlantic's annual Ideas Forum, where former RNC Chairman Michael Steele's current act of pointing and laughing at his successors got an ideal audience. A well-heeled crowd yukked it up when Steele joked about the new RNC's outreach to minorities. "They put up a nice website, with some black faces," he said.

But Steele was much less snarky, and much more convincing, when asked about the laws in various Republican-run states that would have required voter IDs. "The Republican effort was not a concerted grand cabal to go out and suppress the vote, but it was highly stupid," he said. "It was made up of a lot of ham-handed actions by legislators who were trying to seize a political moment. Number one, you don't do it in a political year. You want to change the voting process, you do it from out years, not including the election cycle you are in. It adds some legitimacy to your effort. When a voter, however ill-informed or wise they may be in their understanding of the facts before them, if they feel put upon, if they feel suppressed, change your act."

This is astute. This month, Minnesota voters were faced with a ballot initiative that would have mandated voter ID in the next election. It was widely expected to pass. Voter ID always polls well, and by 30, 40 point margins. But it failed. And that's attributable, in that blue state, to the impression that Republicans were using the law to deny legitimate votes.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.