Getting Carded: Voter ID Laws Do More Harm than Good

Posted: July 30, 2012 in Politics
Tags: , , ,

One of the popular issues on and off throughout the election cycle so far has been voter fraud — specifically, whether or not one should have to present valid, state-issued photo ID (drivers license, passport, gun permit) to cast your ballot in November.  The argument goes something like this, if you listen to those on the right: “You need an ID to drive a car, buy liquor, buy cigarettes, open a bank account — why don’t you need one to do the most important American duty (so important that only 61.6% of eligible Americans voted in 2008)?”  My response will probably sound a lot like the ones you’ve heard Liberals articulate on the news, specifically that it disenfranchises voters.  Specifically, I’d argue that it predominantly affects voters who tend to vote democratic, which is why these new voter ID laws tend to pop up in states with conservative leadership.  Also, it is a solution in search of a problem.  Between 2002-2007, according to a study completed by the Justice Department under Republican administration, there were only 120 cases (of which only 86 were convicted) of voter fraud.

So why is Voter Fraud a big deal, you ask?  I will start by directing you to the Constitution, specifically the 24th amendment:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, 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.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The 24th amendment was implemented in response to the creation of poll taxes designed to oppress Black voters during the reconstruction era after the 15th amendment granted voting rights to citizens of any race.  In most states, it costs money to obtain a state ID.  Here is where proponents of Voter ID proudly exclaim: any state which implemented this law makes obtaining a state ID free!  Well yes, sort of. In most states, to get the free ID, you have to already know about the law and ask for it.  So who does this most prominently affect, anyway?  Surely most people have some sort of Voter ID:

1.) The elderly, for a number of reasons.  First, some older folks have driver’s licenses that do not have a photo on them.  In Tennessee, for instance, this number was as high as 230,000.  If the state requires that the ID be current, many elderly do not drive and fail to renew their licenses or lose them and do not bother to replace them.  After all, older Americans have already established their bank accounts, purchased their homes, and likely do not get carded when buying alcohol or tobacco products.  They are also the ones, I speculate, to be least aware of changes in voting laws.  After all, if you have been voting for fifty years, it seems unlikely to think “Oh, wait, this might have changed.”

2.) Young people.  Young people move around a lot.  One third of people in their 20s move every year.  Many states allow college students to vote in the state of their college, and have only out of state ID (which again may have expired, or they may not keep with them).  College students are also less likely to drive, especially in urban areas, and most IDs expire on or around the 21st birthday while in college.  If I needed to obtain an ID right now (I have one, thankfully), I might have some trouble.  I pay all of my bills online and do not have statements to prove my address.  I have moved ten times in the past six years spanning two states and four cities/towns, so a permanent mailbox is not available to me.  I’ve lost my birth certificate in one of those moves, and the closest copy is 150 miles away.  It’s entirely feasible that young college students will not have valid photo ID.

3.) African Americans.  For whatever reason, African Americans are significantly less likely to have a valid form of ID than anyone else.  In states where Voter ID laws have passed as if 2006, as many as 22% of African Americans did not have the required identification.  Hispanic/Latino citizens were also less likely to have the required ID than White Americans.  Depending on the survey you look at, those percentages range from 20-30%.

4.) The poor: The poor are least likely to have an ID for reasons stated above… the cost and hassle of getting IDs renewed or replaced places an undue burden on those who can least afford to do so.  It also further restricts the voting ability of the homeless.  Even if they are not a group that traditionally votes, they are still afforded the opportunity to.  I had someone respond to me on Twitter and say that he didn’t want “lazy homeless people who don’t contribute to society voting.”  I guess he didn’t realize that military veterans are more likely to be homeless.

It seems to me that these groups (with the exception of perhaps the first, though I suspect that medicare and social security policies of recent austerity-movement conservatives might make that group more democratic), these groups predominately vote democrat.  There has been a correlation found between attitudes toward African Americans and support of Voter ID legislation.  Those who are outraged by claims that these laws harken back to Jim Crow-era race relations might do well to look at the history of voter suppression in the United States.

While many have railed about the evils of the liberal ACORN, many of which were unfounded, voter fraud happens just as often or more on the right.  The recent Wisconsin recall election was fraught with reports of people calling and going door-to-door saying that those who had signed the petition to recall Scott Walker didn’t have to vote. or that those who hadn’t voted in 2010 weren’t allowed to vote.  The Republican governor of Florida ordered, illegally, the purging of voter rolls and was reluctant to stop when ordered by the DOJ.

All of this ignores one fundamental fact, too.  Almost all voter fraud is done through absentee ballot, which these laws would not affect.

So we would disenfranchise as many as 11% of Americans in an attempt to solve a non-existent problem with ineffectual and probably unconstitutional means.  And people think this idea has merit?  Personally, I think it’s thinly-veiled racism and attempted voter manipulation.

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