“This right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless. It gives people, people as individuals, control over their own destinies.”
Lyndon B. Johnson
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., September 10, 2012 – Voter ID laws are discriminatory.
The restrictive laws, especially those that require voters present state-issued photo ID cards, actively curb the ability of millions of eligible voters to cast ballots. While supporters of the law innocently defend the effort as an attempt to avoid fraud, hard data disputes that claim. In fact, the true motivation of the proponents of the law is to exclude certain groups of voters from casting ballots and swaying the outcome of the election.
State voter identification laws simply say that in order to cast a ballot, a voter must present specific types of identification at the polls. Thirty-one US states now require voters to present some form of state-issued ID in order to cast a ballot. Seventeen states require photo IDs in order to vote. Currently, several of those laws are facing legal challenges and could be overturned.
So what’s the problem with requiring a photo ID to vote? Proponents of the law quip that you need a photo ID to drive or board an airplane or even to cash a check at a bank.
But flying and driving are privileges. Voting is a right.
Laws that require identification, especially those most restrictive laws that mandate a voter provide state-issued photo identification cards, hamper the ability of millions of eligible voters to vote. Both public and private studies show that approximately 10% of eligible voters, or more than 21,000,000 people, do not have and will not obtain the documents required to vote under restrictive voter ID laws. For some groups, including black Americans and Hispanic Americans, that percentage is as high as 25%. Because of moving patterns of Americans, exacerbated by the housing crisis, many other eligible voters do not have identification with their current address, which would prohibit them from voting.
Obtaining the required documents is expensive and time consuming. Many voters not only must pay the $100 for a driver’s license, but must also pay up to $45 for a birth certificate, $97 for a passport and more than $200 for naturalization papers. Additionally, in order to get these documents, a potential voter must take time off work and travel to specific locations to fill out paperwork to get the documents. Moreover, many of these documents are not available immediately and can take up to a year to receive.
African Americans, Hispanics, the elderly, and students are even less likely to have the documents required to vote under voter ID laws. Thirty-six percent of Georgians over 75 do not have a driver’s license. In Pennsylvania, 15% of residents over 65 do not have a valid form of identification. Fewer than 3% of Wisconsin college students have drivers’ licenses that list their current address, and researchers speculate that number is consistent across the country, as few students update their address when they go away to college. African Americans have drivers’ licenses at half the rate of whites, and only 22% of black men aged 18-24 nation-wide have a valid driver’s license.
In late August, a federal appeals court struck down the Texas voter ID law, calling it racially discriminatory and saying it imposes “strict unforgiving burdens on the poor.” Attorney General Eric Holder previously had denied pre-clearance for the law, saying Texas failed to show it would not “have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race.” The court said the requirements would most heavily hurt African-Americans and Hispanics, who make up a disproportionate percentage of the poor in Texas. The court further pointed out that more than a quarter of the counties lack operating DMVs, which would force individuals to travel more than 250 miles round trip to obtain an ID.
The proposition that America needs voter identification laws to protect against fraud is frankly ludicrous. Voter identification at the polls would eliminate voter impersonation, the fraud whereby a voter misrepresents his identity to vote. Since October 2002, 86 individuals have been convicted of any type of election fraud – not necessarily voter impersonation – in federal elections, out of 196,139,871 ballots cast. During the same time frame, there have been ten cases of voter impersonation. To put it in context, you are more likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning, to win an Olympic medal, to drown in a bathtub, to become a saint, or die from a mountain lion attack in California than to witness voter impersonation.
The strict ID laws will not address any widespread problem – again, voter impersonation is almost non-existent – but it does make it difficult for some eligible voters to vote, lowers voter turnout, and will increase lines at polling places. Current regulations provide mechanisms to prove that the person casting the ballot is the same person listed on voter rolls, by using a myriad of “proofs” including utility bills, bank statements, signature matches and other methods. The ID law is not necessary.
Equally importantly, voter ID laws violate the spirit of America and run counter to the clear intent of both the Constitution and federal law to encourage, rather than discourage, voting. Since evolving beyond the initial definition of “The People” as free white landowners, the United States has attempted to gain greater participation in voting by all eligible voters. No one should deny an eligible American the right and opportunity to vote. Excluding certain groups undermines the American democratic system.
The ID requirement and dismissal of the difficulties much of the population faces in obtaining a state-issued ID stinks of elitism and lack of empathy. It also clearly discriminates against those Americans who traditionally have faced difficulties at the polls.
If voter impersonation is rare at best and the strict voter ID laws curb voter participation, why are states passing these laws?
Bill supporters are using the guise of fraud to bar parts of the population and boost the chances of their candidate in elections. Those who support the laws understand very clearly that the majority of the disenfranchised voters tend to vote Democrat and eliminating them sways the election in favor of the Republican candidate. It is an underhanded way to sideline Democratic supporters.
Implementing laws that restrict voter participation hurts the democracy America is based on. Instead of limiting the ability of American’s to cast ballots, let’s open the system and encourage participation.
Let every eligible voter cast his ballot and control his destiny.