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    « Must We Always Fill in the Missing Pieces? | Main | Right-Wing Rhetoric, Lesson Two: "Obamniscience" »

    Voter ID Laws: Is the Damage Already Done?


    I know I can sound like a broken record sometimes, but 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.

    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.

    It strikes me as odd that we don’t need one. It seems like it would make sense.  Voting is a fundamental right, so why wouldn’t we want to make sure…?

    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 fears: that those perfectly entitled, perfectly legal, voting citizens who just happen not to be Republicans are going to go vote. This strategy—aimed at disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters—is 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.  It’s right there in the 24th amendment—it’s that thing about the poll tax. In order to vote in a federal election, you and I “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”  The reality is that putting up barriers—most notably, fees, but also bus fare and lost wages from time taken off—is essentially a tax.
    • 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 ten cases of voter fraud—ten—since 2000.  The second half is trickier, but only because it seems so logical.  If you think about if for more than two seconds you’ll see that it 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, oh, by the way…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?

    There’s also an underlying irony in this from-the-right push for ID.  Just last week Mitt Romney talked about regulations and how there are some that should just go away.  He said he would insist on a cost-benefit analysis before any regulation gets implemented.  And yet all these GOP fanatics completely ignore this very sane principle—probably because they know (just as we do) that there’s no friggin’ problem!  

    If they are doing any cost-benefit analyses at all, I imagine it goes something like this:

    “We’ve done the analysis, and if we let the poor and elderly vote, it’s gonna cost us….”

    Fortunately, voter ID laws are falling one by one.  As of this writing, courts have overturned or enjoined such laws in six states; five others remain. (One of these, NH, has a hybrid law for the 2012 election.) As each attempted disenfranchisement fails, one can hear the virtual cheers. The enfranchised, as it were, will not be dissed.

    Except the damage may already be worse than we think.

    Despite the overturned laws, disenfranchisement—both planned and accidental—is still a real risk.  Tens of thousands of noble volunteers will be serving their polling places come this November, and we can be sure that at least some of them will be confused, misinformed, or disinformed about what the laws are in their particular state.  Such confusion can lead to people being turned away when they have every right to vote, and can even have a ripple effect where the confusion causes delays which, in turn, may cause others to turn away from the polls in frustration.

    Even more insidious are groups like True the Vote, a far-right organization grown from the Texas Tea Party. TtheV plans to deploy poll watchers, sent to observe--and potentially challenge—anyone they perceive as possibly ineligible to vote.  And how would they identify such people?  Gee… I don’t know… you do the math….

    This battle is not over. Despite what does or does not happen to legislation in any particular state, the resulting confusion and intimidation could still drive many away from the polls.

    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.
    • 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 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 are 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…



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