By now most people are aware of the various laws passed by, almost exclusively, Republican controlled state legislatures that ostensibly are supposed to prevent voter fraud at the polls (33 states so far. 180 restrictive voting bills have been introduced in 41 states just since the beginning of 2011.) They attempt to accomplish this by requiring photo IDs that are mandated to be produced before someone votes. On its face, it seems logically innocuous. We all have photo IDs (driver’s licenses, etc) that show who we are, don’t we? What’s the big deal? We need to produce an ID when we cash a check, or obtain credit, or get on an airplane, the argument goes, so why not when we show up to vote? Besides there are all those unscrupulous people out there committing voter fraud, impersonating someone else in order to vote more than once, right?
First, not everyone has a photo ID, and not everyone can obtain one readily. In many cases, in order to get a photo ID, you have to have a previous form of ID that proves who you are. And that ID needs to comport with who you are today, so that it corresponds with the previous voter registration (something you probably didn‘t need an ID for). Many people, especially in the older and minority populations, were born in rural settings with midwives, or never obtained valid birth certificates. Church registrations of birth are not always good identifiers. Women marry, and remarry, and in the process change their names, many times in different states. There are limited places where these IDs can be obtained, and they require a fee. So obtaining current, documentary evidence of one’s identity to create a new, valid photo ID, is often daunting, if not nearly impossible for many people.
Second, the incidence of actual voter fraud, where one voter impersonates another, is virtually nil, across the country. In Pennsylvania, where I live, our Republican legislature earlier this year enacted a law that required photo IDs, mandating full implementation for this election in November. It was recently challenged in Commonwealth Court, and the judge ruled that the law should be upheld, that it did not violate anyone’s rights. There’s a good chance that it will not be struck down after the inevitable appeal to the PA Supreme Court, because there are presently only six sitting judges, half Republican, half Democrat, and a tie vote would require the lower court decision to be upheld. But at the trial, the state conceded that it had no evidence, none whatsoever, of any impersonation voter fraud that resulted in prosecution, and did not even attempt to justify the law on that basis. Yet the Judge still upheld it.
In any event, the type of voter fraud that tangibly affects elections occurs, not at the voting level, but at the counting level. Remember hanging chads?
Unlike obtaining credit, flying on airplanes and cashing checks, voting is a fundamental right in a democracy, not a privilege. Without participatory voting, you have no real democracy. They didn’t name the Voting Rights Act the Voting Privileges Act for a reason. It’s implicit in the very idea of one man, one vote, that every man and woman has access to the voting booth without any significant obstruction. No less than five amendments to the Constitution (the 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th) all reaffirm the vote as a right. Read them.
So one would think that our legislatures would be passing laws that make it easier to vote, not harder. Like Internet voting. Or voting when you shop at the super market. Or via cell phone. Something, anything that gets as many people to vote as possible. Or perhaps it would be appropriate to first determine that there is a real need for restrictive ID laws, before making them mandatory? These laws are the epitome of the old adage “putting the cart before the horse”. They are solutions to problems that don’t exist.
It’s almost axiomatic that they are politically motivated laws that are specifically designed to help Republicans gain and maintain political power. In Pennsylvania, one legislator admitted that the purpose of the PA law was to win PA, a potential swing state, for Romney this November. And with this recent ruling, they may succeed. It’s estimated, in Pennsylvania alone, that approximately 750,000 potential voters could be turned away at the polls this November, the bulk of them potential Obama voters – minorities, aged, and the poor. That’s more than the margin of victory for Obama in 2008.
Call me naive, but I used to think the political process involved people of different, yet equally valid, political persuasions elucidating a plan or platform for their constituency, and to run on that plan, with the humble idea that a majority of voters would decide which plan should be given effect, by voting in the proponent of that plan. Apparently, Republicans don’t believe it works that way any more. They now think that the best way to gain office is by subterfuge – elucidate a phantom problem, then pass a law to fix that non-existent problem, a law that is secretly, but clearly, designed to have the consequential effect of disenfranchising a portion of the electorate deemed to potentially vote against Republicans.
The Republicans , by doing this, announce to the world that they don’t believe they have a plan that a majority of voters will vote for, so they need to resort to dirty tricks to get their votes. And you have to ask yourselves – if they don’t believe in themselves, why should we? The cynicism of the Republicans is palpably insulting.
Even if one assumes that there is a real need for voter ID laws (something that no one will concede, not even the proponents of the law) it doesn’t make sense that the state should, in the course of 11 months enact and finally implement the law. That is not responsible policy or law making involving a fundamental right such as voting. The Constitutional right to vote is so important in our system of government, that if implemented, it should be done in a responsible way. Phase it in over time, have a significant grace period spread over a multi -year election cycle, and ascertain that there is a significant (i.e. 99%) amount of actual compliance before you finalize it. Don’t pass the law in January to be effective in November in order to specifically affect the outcome of the election in favor of the majority political party.
There are a lot of rights enunciated in the Constitution. The right to bear arms, the right to assemble, the right to speak freely, the right to vote. It’s ironic that the right to speak, for example, is well nigh absolute, and that restrictions on it are practically non-existent and/or are struck down repeatedly by the courts. Gay hating fundamentalists have the right to picket military funerals, for instance. We have a right to say whatever we want about the politicians we like or hate, who we want to vote for, and who we shouldn’t vote for.
It’s ironic that our ability to speak about who we want to vote for is less restricted than our ability to actually vote for that person.