EDITORIAL: Driving the vote

Nevada’s new driver authorization cards are a reminder to the state’s elected officials that, sometimes, they should be careful what they wish for. The unqualified initial success of the cards validates one set of policy positions while completely disproving another.

With bipartisan support, the 2013 Legislature passed a bill to issue the cards to the state’s undocumented immigrants. The state has long had tens of thousands of unlicensed, uninsured drivers traveling its roads. Compelling those drivers to learn the laws of the road and pass written and driving skills tests was a worthy public safety priority. But granting full driver’s licenses to people in the country illegally was a political impossibility; driver’s licenses are official, government-issued identification, and undocumented workers lack the official American papers necessary to conclusively prove their identity.

The driver authorization cards were a reasonable compromise. The cards prove the holder can safely operate a motor vehicle, but they can’t be used as official identification.

Set aside the head-scratching requirement that people who’ve entered and lived in the United States illegally enter a government office and admit as much to obtain a government document. The larger immigration issues are their large presence in our community, the political impossibility of forcing them to leave or deporting them, and the need to bring them into compliance with the rest of our laws. Driver authorization cards are a start toward getting more drivers insured and bringing undocumented immigrants out of the gray economy.

The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles began issuing the cards to undocumented immigrants this month. Although the program has created longer lines at DMV offices, the process has more than justified the legislation. Between Jan. 2 and Jan. 8, the agency administered about 3,200 written exams to driving card applicants, and the failure rate was 67 percent, the Review-Journal’s Sean Whaley reported. However, the failure rate was just 24 percent on the 331 driving skill tests conducted.

“The low pass rate on the written test proves we needed to do this,” state Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, told Mr. Whaley.

The state has a long way to go. Just 549 cards were issued under the law’s first week in effect, and Nevada has an estimated 60,000 undocumented immigrants of driving age. If all of them became legal, insured drivers, the roads would be safer and perhaps the state’s high auto insurance rates would stabilize.

But it’s curious to see some state officials champion the sight of hundreds of ethnic minorities — many of them from low-income households — lining up to pay to obtain government-issued photo cards. Many of these same officials, in opposing laws that require voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot, claim it’s an impossible hardship for poor, minority citizens to obtain government photo cards and present them at their precincts. Yet low-income minorities who aren’t even citizens are eagerly lining up and paying for the privilege.

Perhaps the issuance of driver authorization cards will change some minds about voter ID laws, which have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as constitutional. But, like those stuck in long lines at the DMV, we won’t hold our breath.


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