Without a personal identification card issued by some level of government, you are a second-class citizen. You cannot board an airplane, ride an Amtrak train, buy a six-pack of beer or a pack of cigarettes, open a checking account, enter many public and some private office buildings or even attend an NAACP convention without proving that you are who you say you are. You cannot even qualify for means-tested public support programs such as Medicaid without valid identification.
These requirements have provoked strikingly little objection from the American public. No one argues that it is grossly discriminatory to deprive people without picture IDs access to this wide range of places, programs and activities.
But when it comes to voting, that is exactly the argument. The Democratic Party, the attorney general of the United States and a vocal chorus from the civil rights community are waging war on voter photo ID laws enacted recently in 10 states, laws they see as part of a new voter suppression movement.
The charge leveled against photo ID requirements has a particularly nasty echo: It is, critics say, no different than the Jim Crow poll tax used in Southern states until the mid-1960s to keep blacks from the voting booth. But the Supreme Court has addressed that issue. In a 2008 decision upholding Indiana's voter ID law, the opinion of the court, written by Justice John Paul Stevens - certainly no conservative - dismissed the poll tax argument on the grounds that the state had a legitimate interest in preventing voter fraud. Five justices agreed with him.
Rights are not absolute. Nine-year-olds cannot vote; nor can illegal immigrants. An estimated 1 million illegal immigrants live in Texas today. If many of them turned up at the polls and were able to vote in the absence of a requirement for government-issued identification, the right of all Texas citizens to choose their representatives might be seriously compromised.