In my younger days, I never seemed to have a valid driver’s license on election day. Either I’d just moved to the neighborhood, or more likely I never got around to updating the address on my ID when I had moved 12 months before. Happily, a utility bill sufficed as proof of residence in one instance; in another, my neighbor vouched for me. That one always struck me as genius: In Minnesota, a registered voter may pledge an oath that up to 15 other voters live in his or her precinct. In this age of microchipped pets and smartphone barcode scanning apps, it’s wonderfully old school to know that something as prosaic as facial recognition fuels the democratic process.
However, 30 states are trying to mandate voter ID requirements that will overturn these inclusive policies. “While this may strike some as a relatively minor technical adjustment in voting security, what is really going on is far more significant,” writes David Carroll Cochran America: The National Catholic Weekly (Aug 1, 2011) in an article about how the new voter ID laws subvert democracy. “There are two things to know about this campaign. First, the [voter fraud] problem it points to does not exist. Second, the real purpose of its proposed solution is to keep certain kinds of American citizens from exercising their legitimate right to vote.” These citizens include the young, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, and women. Note that Texas law will prohibit university IDs but allow a concealed handgun permit to be used. As Cochran explains:
Photo ID laws do allow those who do not have a driver’s license to present an alternative ID, but this must be obtained well before election day. To acquire such an ID, they need to collect documents like a certified birth certificate, take time off work (for the poor, usually unpaid time) and find a way to get to county offices to wait in line for the ID. Political science has long established that requiring additional steps for such voters, especially steps that are time-consuming and inconvenient, will reduce the rate at which that group votes. Voter identification laws clearly have this effect. Studies show that while they do not prevent fraud, they do significantly lower turnout among Democratic-leaning groups, especially low-income African-American and Hispanic voters.
The U.S. Constitution originally restricted the vote based on race, sex, and wealth (granting it only to white male landowners), but we’ve come a long way since then. “Conservative legislatures in 30 states are attempting to turn the clock back,” reports HERvotes, a feminist campaign seeking to protect advances in women’s rights. “As many as 32 million women of voting age do not have documentation with their current legal name.”
Keep in mind that voting for our leaders is not a privilege but a sacred right. A disenfranchised person’s vote has the same weight as that of a wealthy and powerful person—and that’s the way it should remain.
Images by kristin_a (Meringue Bake Shop) and adria.richards, licensed under Creative Commons.