Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Access To Voting

The House of Representatives is considering a bill (H.R. 4844) that would require us to present identification before voting. We have to show identification to get on a plane. We have to show identification to leave or re-enter the country. We have to show identification before giving blood, for heaven's sake. Moreover, voter-identification laws are already in place in Arizona, Missouri, and Florida. There are probably more; those are the states I know about. So, why would a requirement to present still more identification concern me?

There's the obvious point that voting is a right and not a luxury. No one HAS to give blood. It seems that with a right, the default should be the other way. No one HAS to be denied access to the polls. Moreover, no single piece of paper proves my citizenship, from which my right to vote stems. I have a birth certificate that proves I was born in this country. It has my maiden name on it, and wouldn't prove that I'm the person who was actually birthed to that mom on that day, even if I hadn't changed my name when I got married. So to prove anything with that, I'd also have to present a marriage certificate and a photo ID.

And thanks to having married Mr. Organization, I have all those documents and know where they are. (He's a wonder, and that's the truth -but that's another subject.) Nonetheless, many people don't. Current evidence suggests that 6-10% of current voters don't. 22% of African-American males between 18 and 24 don't have a driver's license -which I'm guessing would be one of the allowable forms of identification. Many senior citizens lack any form of photo ID. Homeless people would almost certainly be excluded, since address verification from any ID they did have would undoubtedly fail.

So what are the Republicans selling, when they try to convince us that this proposal is necessary? In the states with successful initiatives, they've told stories of grievous voter fraud: non-citizens trying to register to vote, people being transported into precincts in order to vote illicitly, people voting in many different precincts. So... ok. Did it happen?

Nope. Or not much, anyway. They tried these arguments in Ohio, and the League of Women Voters (careful, it's a .pdf file) actually studied the data to see if it had happened. In the previous election, four Ohio votes were deemed to be fraudulent. Four out of 9 million and change. On the other hand, over 100,000 voters would have been immediately disenfranchised had the bill passed.

I hear you. The obvious answer is that identification is not difficult to obtain. Most of the disenfranchised people would march themselves to the DMV -or wherever- and get ID, if voting were important to them. SO not the point. First off, if you think getting identification is easy, you've never had to replace your driver's license after having had your wallet (and therefore most of your corroborating identification) stolen. And secondly, there's a cost. I just had my driver's license renewed; it cost $10, I think. And, in the interest of full disclosure, people over 65 can get state ID free of charge. So the costs aren't wildly prohibitive, but they are costs. And what is the justification for putting barriers between people and the polls, when the need hasn't been proven?

Oh wait... I get it. Look again at the categories of people being at least temporarily disenfranchised: the poor, minorities, the elderly. People who vote Democratic, statistically speaking. In the good old days, I wasn't much for conspiracy theories, but this presidency has cured me of that delusion. I absolutely believe that's what they're about here.

It looks like the bill is going to pass in the House, by the way. The best chance for defeat is in the Senate. Call your Senators, if you're so inclined.

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