With all the election talk in the air, some are enthusiastic to go to the polls and cast their ballots. Others may not even have the ability to exercise the right, even though they are American citizens. Voter ID laws are growing in popularity, with over 30 states requiring some form of identification. Nine states now require a state-issued photo ID before issuing a ballot. Another six states have laws that make voters provide photo ID upon request.
Proponents of voter ID laws argue that these laws help combat voter fraud and ensure that all elections are fair. Yes, it is fundamentally important to address concerns threatening a right as precious as enfranchisement; however, there is no evidence that voter fraud is one of those concerns. The growing popularity of such laws is a detrimental to equality in America, separating the haves from the have-nots with a right that is essential to our democracy. Voter ID is wrong because it is about voter suppression, not fraud. These laws address a virtually non-existent problem, deny American citizens of a fundamental right, and target certain demographic groups.
Most politicians frame the new state laws as a way to combat voter fraud. When it actually comes to suppressing voter fraud, it’s nothing more than beating a dead horse. According to the Brennan Center for Justice of New York University, Washington State had a fraudulent vote count of 0.0009% in 2004. Ohio had a figure of 0.00004% in the same year. With statistics dramatically below one percent of voters actually committing fraud, there is no need to police it any further. Fines and jail time should be deterrent enough.
The largest concern about voter ID is that it consciously targets certain groups. Nothing is being done to offset this reality. Requiring the poor to obtain a government-issued photo ID could be considered a poll tax. Either these identification cards should be free and easily accessible or the requirement should not exist, as poll taxes have been deemed illegal by the Twenty-Fourth Amendment. In addition, if ID cards are required, they should be easily accessible because the economic demands on the poor may limit their opportunities to acquire cards in some cases. Much of the working poor simply cannot afford to call off work to wait interminably in a DMV branch. Indeed, some rural poor simply don’t live reasonably close to one.
For the elderly, a major problem is the birth certificate. One needs an ID to get a birth certificate and a birth certificate to get an ID. Without one, it’s nearly impossible to obtain the other. The older a citizen is, generally, the more difficult it is for them to obtain their records. In addition, in most jurisdictions a misspelling of a name or an incorrect vital statistic will render the whole document invalid. For example, a certificate correction in Jefferson County, Wisconsin costs $200. When considering the prices of food, transportation, medicine, and housing on a fixed income, such as a pension or Social Security, the chances of incurring outside expenses are few and and far apart. Furthermore, some senior citizens may share some of the same struggles of the poor, whether it be the lack of someone to take care of them, losses to their retirement funds because of the econimic crisis, the unavailability of a pension, or countless other reasons.
Even students are affected. Young adults across the country are not attending schools in their backyard. In states like Indiana, Georgia, and Pennsylvania where mandatory government-issued photo ID laws are in place, out-of-state students have no way to vote unless they renounce their home state residency. This also proves to be difficult because students move frequently. Having to update an ID card with a new address every school year and reregistering to vote is a hassle for most.
Finally, pursuing voter ID laws is wrong because enfranchisement is a fundamental right enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. The Fifteenth Amendment does not allow government to deny a citizen the right to vote because of one’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” In addition, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 forbids imposing any “voter qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice or procedure…to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” If enfranchisement is a basic right protected under our Constitution, there is no need to knowingly suppress that right of any citizen. A land of the people, by the people should allow its own people to vote.
Politicians need to start representing their constituents, not their self interest. blog comments powered by Disqus