CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Here we go again. When the 2013 state Legislature convenes Feb. 13, strengthened Republicans in the House of Delegates vow they'll try again to force all voters to show government-issued photo identification cards at polls.
Such laws are part of a nationwide GOP covert strategy to hinder voting by low-income people, blacks, Hispanics, students, the disabled, the elderly and other groups that generally vote Democratic.
Republican leaders pretend they're acting against vote fraud -- but that's a smoke screen, because voting under a false name rarely happens. In fact, passing ID laws constitutes vote fraud of a different sort: blocking votes for the rival party.
Middle-class folks have no trouble flashing their driver licenses at election precincts. But a surprising number of less-established people simply don't have them. A Wisconsin survey found that 78 percent of black adults under age 24 lacked licenses.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University estimated that Republican-passed voter ID laws could have obstructed 5 million votes in the 2012 election. After Pennsylvania Republicans passed their law, House GOP Leader Mike Turzai boasted that the new requirement "is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania." Luckily, the law was challenged, and it didn't achieve its purpose.
Sarcastically, a Brennan Center leader said a voter is more likely to be hit by lightning than to vote under a phony name.
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant says West Virginia already has strong ballot safeguards. "We don't have a problem with voter impersonation," she said. As for recent vote-stealing prosecutions in Lincoln and Logan counties, she said those offenses had nothing to do with whether voters had picture cards.
Last year, Tennant said, Republicans in the Legislature wouldn't sponsor a bill to help counties update their voter rolls, to prevent political insiders from fabricating votes in the names of deceased or departed people. If the GOP wants to fight fraud, it should back this measure.
The 2012 election gave Republicans more power in West Virginia's Legislature -- but Democrats still control both chambers and the governorship. Democrats should make sure that no partisan barriers obstruct the most fundamental right of democracy: voting.