Dennis Persica: Louisiana gets kudos for doing nothing

Pat yourself on the back, Louisiana. You have distinguished yourself by doing nothing.

Based on a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University law school, Louisiana is the only former member of the old Confederacy that has not adopted new voting restrictions since 2010.

Altogether, 22 states have enacted laws tightening voting requirements in one form or another since 2010, according to the center. As a result, “citizens in nearly half the nation could find it harder to vote this year than in 2010,” the report says.

Some of what the Brennan Center sees as restrictions are pretty mild. Illinois, for example, only reduced the time allowed for returning voter registration forms by mail.

More serious restrictions have been enacted as well, though. Photo ID requirements are the vogue these days, and many states have adopted them since 2010. Louisiana already had an ID requirement in place by then.

The impact can be tremendous. In Texas, the Brennan Center estimates that between 600,000 and 800,000 already-registered voters do not have the kind of ID the state’s law requires.

Another widespread change is reducing the number of days for early voting. In Georgia, for example, the early voting period was cut by more than half.

Here is where the supposed justification for tighter voting regulations falls short. If we expect poll workers to make sure the unflattering ID photo presented to them bears some resemblance to the flesh-and-blood person trying to vote, we should want them to have enough time to do that.

But if you cut the early voting hours — increasing the chances that more people will show up on election day — you’ve made the job harder for workers checking IDs. That will lead to longer delays at the polls, and we won’t know until an election has come and gone whether those delays were spread evenly across the board.

Will predominantly Democratic polling places have delays equal to predominantly Republican ones? And how can we be sure that poll workers checking IDs will be equally vigilant in all precincts?

More importantly, will poll workers be trained on how to determine if a postage-stamp-sized photo taken under garish lighting is in fact a photo of the person trying to vote? Or will every poll worker just wing it?

Some of the more important election changes — such as early voting periods — came after the debacle of the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore v. George W. Bush. The Supreme Court cited equal-protection issues when it adjudicated the Florida mess in Bush’s favor.

“Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another,” the court said.

Those same equal-protection tests should apply in the case of voter ID. If poll workers aren’t given standard criteria for evaluating a picture ID, there’s no equal treatment.

Fortunately, Louisiana hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon to enact new voting restrictions since 2010. Maybe the Legislature was too busy figuring out where it stood on the Common Core state standards to do anything new regarding elections. Maybe Gov. Bobby Jindal was preoccupied with planning his “hostile takeover” of our nation’s capital.

Or maybe those who want to tighten voter restrictions here realize they can’t realistically claim the fear of voter fraud as the basis for doing so. In a state that almost celebrates its history of corruption, any sudden purported interest in combating it would be met with unrestrained suspicion.

In the end, the Pelican State distinguished itself by doing nothing. Be proud, Louisiana.

Dennis Persica’s email address is dpersica@theadvocate.com.