RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer faced a round of repetitive questioning from MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts today over the issue of whether Voter ID laws are really meant to address a serious problem, or if they are, as Roberts kept insisting, nothing but unconstitutional voter suppression. The full exchange, which took over seven and a half minutes and involved repeated crosstalk and dubious assertions on both sides, finally resulted with Roberts backing down slightly against Spicer.
In describing the voter ID laws as "voter suppression," Roberts initially argued that because IDs cost money, the requirement to get ID amounts to an unconstitutional poll tax. Spicer responded with several counter-arguments, including that Voter ID laws are popular, and that in most states, there are provisions allowing IDs to be given out for free. This latter point is not universally true - indeed, it varies depending on which state one is talking about. However, it did seem to give Roberts some pause.
Roberts, for his part, relied heavily on rhetorical points, arguing that voting was a "basic American right" as determined by the Founders. In actuality, this point is wrong, given that the Founders never envisioned a system of universal suffrage and, in fact, supported voting rights being restricted on the basis of property ownership - a much more strict barrier to voting than even a real poll tax. Moreover, despite constitutional restrictions on what criteria states can and cannot use to determine who is allowed to vote, there is no constitutional right to vote. Spicer did not mention these facts, but was able to counter Roberts successfully with the fact that the Supreme Court has already found Voter ID laws to be constitutional.
Mediaite describes the full exchange:
“I actually find it extremely insulting to say that there was any effort by anyone to suppress the vote,” said Spicer. “I find that unbelievably insulting.”
Roberts interrupted, asking if Spicer would say that to a federal panel who recently ruled that a voter identification law in Texas would impose an undue burden on the poor. “They said that this was basically a poll tax and it would be voter suppression in the state of Texas and it won’t be happening there,” said Roberts.
Spicer shot back that a similar law in Rhode Island has gone unchallenged, as well as in other states. He also said that a broad majority of Americans support identification requirements. Spicer went on to conclude that most identification is provided for free and the principle that applies to air planes and government buildings should also apply to the voting booth.
“But your basic American right is not to fly, is it Sean,” Roberts asked.
“No, but I don’t understand your question,” Spicer replied. Crosstalk ensued as the pair argued over the validity of the equation between the right to enter a secured area and the right to vote. Spicer argued that the right to drive on a road could be a poll tax because a license is required.
A final note on poll taxes: Roberts' belief that any expenditure of money being required as a prerequisite for voting can be dismissed as a "poll tax" would invalidate practically every feature of modern voting. Under this standard, having to spend money on gas to drive to a polling place would be a poll tax, as would being required to buy a postage stamp if one was voting via absentee ballot. It is, therefore, not an argument that any court is likely to advance.
Roberts also misstated the rationale of courts that have struck down voter ID provisions as being based on the argument that voter ID laws disadvantage the poor. Rather, the court that struck down Texas' voter ID laws cited disproportionate impact on the basis of race as their rationale.