Are voter ID requirements racist? Utah Sen. Mike Lee doesn't think so

Ranking committee member Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, asks questions to witnesses as they testify before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Tuesday in Washington. Lee took issue with suggestions in a Senate hearing Wednesday that requiring photo identification to vote is racially discriminatory.

Ranking committee member Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, asks questions to witnesses as they testify before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Tuesday in Washington. Lee took issue with suggestions in a Senate hearing Wednesday that requiring photo identification to vote is racially discriminatory. (Ken Cedeno, Associated Press)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee took issue with suggestions in a Senate hearing Wednesday that requiring photo identification to vote is racially discriminatory.

The Utah Republican rattled off a list of places where IDs are issued or required as a matter of policy, including airports, bars and hospitals.

"Is our entire health care system racist? Are pharmacies racist? The airline industry. Is that racist? The TSA? What about bars? I mean some people consider it a form of flattery, I guess, if they get carded but it happens," he said.

Lee made the comments during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution titled, "Restoring the Voting Rights Act: Combating Discriminatory Abuses." Congress is considering legislation that would restore and strengthen parts of the Voting Rights Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that states can require voters to show identification cards, rejecting arguments that it amounts to an unconstitutional burden, especially on the elderly and minorities.

Thirty-five states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls, while 15 states use other methods to verify the identity of voters, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Democrats have fought those laws over the years with limited success.

Colleges and universities issue student IDs with photos to make sure the privileges associated with that school aren't being used improperly by someone else, Lee said. Major League Baseball, the NFL and other event organizers call for identification to pick up tickets.

"Are they all racist?" Lee said.

"That would be news to me," he said. "It's certainly not racist to require someone to prove who they are in order to gain access to government benefits of one sort or another."

Lee said if the industries he mentioned are racist, then there is a bigger problem.

"But, of course, none of this is true because this is absolute nonsense," he said.

One of those testifying at the hearing, Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, called Lee's examples irrelevant.


Is our entire health care system racist? Are pharmacies racist? The airline industry. Is that racist? The TSA? What about bars? I mean some people consider it a form of flattery, I guess, if they get carded but it happens.

–Utah Sen. Mike Lee


Anyone who's really interested in engaging in fraudulent voting can get a fake ID, he said.

"It's not hard. That's why these examples given by Sen. Lee really are not relevant because we see fraud in those circumstances, whether it's at a bar, as he suggested, or accessing benefits," Saenz said in response to questions from Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif.

"It's absolutely unclear that voter ID has any effect, other than to make it more difficult, often involving costs and time for those to obtain a voter ID that they've never had before."

Saenz said the limits on what IDs are acceptable to vote is critical.

"Sen. Lee used school IDs as an example, and yet school IDs in the state of Texas are not allowed as a voter ID," he said. "There's really no match between nonexistent voter fraud and what voter ID is intended to do."

Padilla noted that a concealed weapons permit is allowed as voter ID in Texas, "so there you go."

As the committee wrangled over voter identification laws, recent news reports suggest Congressional Democrats have expressed some openness to ID requirements.

The New York Times reported last week that Democrats, searching for a way forward on legislation to protect voting rights, are softening their once-firm opposition to voter ID laws.

"As I have always said, a person should have to confirm that they are who they are in order to vote," Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., told the Times. "What I get concerned about is when you say gun licenses are OK, when a student ID is not. Then I think any reasonable person has to ask, 'Well, what's that game?'"

But House Democrats have not included language mandating voter ID in either of the two significant voting bills it has passed, according to NPR. The For the People Act, which passed the House in a party-line vote in March, reduces voter ID requirements.

The partisan divide on IDs now appears to be over what type of IDs are acceptable, NPR reported. Republicans generally want a smaller range of government-issued IDs, while Democrats generally want less restrictive ID requirements.

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Dennis Romboy

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