Much of today’s post was actually written two years ago, about a month before the 2012 presidential election. (Hence the “redux” in the title.) But we have a problem that just won’t go away, and so it seems an update is timely.
Though I know I can sound like a broken record sometimes, certain points are worth making over and over again. Here’s one of ‘em: some things are simply not about right and left, but about right and wrong. This whole Voter ID “initiative” strikes me as one of those things and, sadly, as we come up to the very important 2014 mid-terms, the problem deserves center stage once more.
How prevalent is the issue still? Here are two examples:
A few years back I was a member of the Bedford Republican Club, a smallish but official group that meets monthly in the town’s library, and which I left because it had taken a decidedly extremist swing to the right. However, I’m still on the email list, and just yesterday received the minutes from their most recent meeting. The key topic that night? Voter fraud. Here are a couple of “facts” that were given to the audience by the speaker, Ed Naile, from the Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers, a group that claims to be (and may actually be) “grassroots”:
- Illegal immigrants have been caught voting in New Hampshire
- Democratic legislators are “gutting our election laws” to make it harder to find these cases
- Democrats are “rigging the election game” in North Carolina
- The IRS is targeting voter-fraud activists
None of these are substantiated other than through innuendo and convenient opinion, of course. But, Lord! do they get the blood boiling and the extremists to the polls!
The second case is the SCOTUS decision regarding Texas, where the Supreme Court allowed to stand a federal judge’s ruling that election laws shouldn’t be altered so close to an election. The ruling means that identification will be required to vote in the upcoming mid-terms, a situation which Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, says “means [that] hundreds of thousands of eligible voters in Texas will be unable to participate in November's election because Texas has erected an obstacle course designed to discourage voting."
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Every single eligible citizen should be allowed unhindered access to the voting booth. If your party cannot win on the merits of position and argument, then that’s your problem, not the problem of those people whom you are punishing through limited access to the polls.
To be clear: I’m not against the fundamental concept of providing identification when you vote; I actually think it makes sense. Back in 2006, when I first had occasion to vote in New Hampshire, I was surprised when I tried to hand my driver’s license to the poll volunteer (an elderly woman who liked to chat a bit if the line wasn’t too long). She waved it off with a cute little, “You don’t need that, honey.” (Seriously. She said, “honey.”)
I’d always used my ID to vote in the past, so I thought this was just one of those New Hampshire live-free-or-die things, an exception to the rule. Turns out I was wrong. All those years when I’d been handing over my license, the volunteers had apparently just been using it to check the spelling of my name. It wasn’t a requirement at all. (Now it is, by the way. In New Hampshire, too, we’ve fallen for a well-told story….)
Ah, but what if there’s no real purpose to it? Just because something feels right doesn’t mean we should do it, particularly if it serves no purpose. It’s sort of like bathing in Cool Whip. Perhaps the experience would be soft and refreshing, but if it doesn’t actually do anything, then why bother?
If there’s no purpose, no real problem to be solved, then I’m just fine with this fundamental concept remaining just that: a concept. It’s nice and all, but I’m okay with believing that an ID should be required yet also believing that there’s just no need for it.
Unless, of course your problem is that you might lose.
And that, apparently, is what the GOP continually fears: that those perfectly entitled, perfectly legal, voting citizens who just happen not to be Republicans are going to go vote. That the continual demographic shift (and concurrent demise of old, white Republicans) will eventually augur the death of any real conservative influence. And so a strategy aimed at disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters rolls across the landscape. It’s simply heinous. Abhorrent. Detestable. Loathsome. Vile. It makes me more embarrassed to be a member of the Republican Party than any single event in history—and that includes nominating Sarah Palin for veep.
And let me just say that the arguments in favor of voter ID basically, well, suck. Here are the two most common examples, just so you can see what I mean:
- You have to have ID to buy a car, don’t you? Or to get a fishing license? So why not an ID for something much more important, like voting? The answer to that one is simple: the Constitution doesn’t guarantee you the right to buy a car or go fishing. The Constitution doesn’t even guarantee you access to public lands. The Constitution does, however, guarantee you the right to vote—and without obstruction.
- But voter fraud is a real risk! Don’t you know that there are thousands and thousands of dead people on the voter roles! I love this one. The first half of the objection is easily dismissed: there have been roughly a dozen or cases of voter fraud—a dozen—since 2000. The second half is trickier, but quickly falls apart. Having a deceased person’s name on the registration list is only a problem if a) someone knows that the person’s name is there and b) someone decides to impersonate the dead person. And it just ain’t happenin’. What all those deceased people are actually doing is not voting. That’s because they’re, well, deceased. Where’s the fraud there? Sloppy bookkeeping, I’ll grant you. But fraud?
This battle, though it should be over, is not. So what can you do? A few things:
First, if you want to vote, don’t stay home. That may sound overly simplistic, but it means making sure that you’re properly registered, that you have ID if you need it, and that you’re willing—if necessary—to put up with some inconvenience and delay in order to cast your ballot. And please, please, please, PLEASE vote! The phrase “important mid-term” is NOT an oxymoron. This election is a chance to set the stage for the remainder of Obama’s presidency and the 2016 elections. There are many, many qualified moderate Republicans running and many, many thoughtful Democrats. Go to the polls. Elect these people. Send the crazies home.
Second, do not leave the polling station without voting. Even if you are challenged, you can and must vote, even if it means using a provisional ballot, or signing an affidavit, or filling out a form in order to do so. And get the name of the person who challenged you.
Finally, know your rights. Visit www.866ourvote.org for up-to-the-minute information on voter ID issues, or contact them at 866-Our-Vote. Don’t be afraid to call them straight from the polls if you need to—they will have staff ready to answer your questions and defend your rights. They have been and are still there for one reason only: Election Protection.
Ultimately, though, it’s got to be about you. This is your country, your right. If you want it badly enough, then let nothing deter you. And all of us should want it badly enough…