Under a new California law, people who get a driver’s license or state identification card will be automatically registered to vote. From what I’m seeing, Democrats are generally applauding it while Republicans are suspicious of it. The practical effects are bound to be similar to voter ID requirements. People who are eligible for IDs will be waved past a hurdle toward voting. People who don’t get an ID will have to register the old way, and this may become more difficult since it won’t be as routine in the future. The burden will fall most heavily on people who can’t afford cars or otherwise can’t get a driver’s license. They can still get the alternate ID, but those at the economic bottom may not bother. The same people might not be able to vote under an ID requirement, for similar reasons.
Oddly, the people who support DMV registration generally oppose strong ID requirements, and vice versa. Shouldn’t the people who oppose making it harder for the poorest to vote also oppose making it disproportionately easy for the non-poor to vote? My best guess is that looking at the issues from the perspective of entitlement is what makes them appear opposite. Both DMV registration and absence of ID requirements make it possible for people to vote with the least amount of effort. I think the real concern in both cases is that people might have to expend some effort in order to vote and choose not to, not that ID requirements will skew elections.
If we want good election results, it makes sense for some kind of effort to be required. People who don’t care enough to take extra steps to vote probably realize they don’t have enough information to make a meaningful choice, either because they haven’t chosen to study the candidates or because other demands in life have taken all their time. Progressives are concerned about the effects of massive advertising on election outcomes; enabling basically indifferent people to vote more easily is bound to make this problem worse, since they’re more likely just to vote for someone whose name they remember.
Putting requirements on voting is a tricky area; it’s easy for them to distort an election. (The Southern state governments were once expert at this.) However, there’s no justification for the notion that reducing the effort required to vote is a good idea as such, and certainly no reason to think that distorting the election by adding entitlements is better than distorting it by adding functionally equivalent barriers. This is particularly true when the barrier is a minor and well-established one such as having to register.