…and the vast majority probably never will.
Certainly politically active progressives care a great deal, seeing how these laws disproportionately target constituencies which tend to vote Democrat. This group has been making a compelling, impassioned case about how voter fraud isn’t actually much of a problem, and that in solving this non-problem via Voter ID, we are in turn denying thousands upon thousands of citizens their right to vote.
Unfortunately, they have now been making this case for well over half a decade and not only do existing laws remain on the books, but new ones keep popping up.
So when right-wing politicians and their media lapdogs come along with anecdotal horror stories of people stuffing ballot boxes and dead people voting…and then proceed to tell voters who aren’t really paying much attention that this enormous problem can be solved simply by showing a photo ID when voting. Well, that’s a no-brainer to a society mostly conditioned to present ID for a whole host of reasons we care about far less than cheats and zombies stealing our elections.
Democrats and their allies can scream the truth about what these laws are actually designed to do until they’re blue in the face, but they will keep losing time and again if that is their only strategy. While there are legitimate reasons why people don’t have ID and that requiring them to obtain one is a much greater ordeal than most would imagine, none of that really matters a bit in the broader court of public opinion.
It’s time for a new approach.
Of course, this isn’t how the issue is framed by Republican-controlled statehouses eager to deny the vote to large blocks of voters who just so-happen to lean heavily to their opponents’ side. Instead, the threat of voter fraud is overblown enough to justify the law, and then American’s ambivalence about being required to show photo ID does the rest.
If the professed intent of these laws were really to prevent voter fraud as stated, then why simultaneously make it much more difficult to obtain the same ID now suddenly required to vote, as multiple states have done? Basically these politicians robbed people of their right to vote in broad daylight, told a story they knew to be complete garbage, and dared anyone to call them on it.
While a few Republicans have spoken out against the practice, exposing insider details behind the laws’ true motives, most seem comfortable sticking it to the ‘other side’. The justification that Democrats would do the same if given the opportunity probably shouldn’t be a surprise given the current partisanship and tribalism in a deeply divided America.
Yet with the passage of each new Voter ID law, another batch of American citizens is denied their right to vote. Not all of these voters support Democrats, but Republicans are clearly comfortable strategically sacrificing a number of their own voters to eliminate a much higher number who would oppose them given the opportunity. It’s a smart play by a political party looking out for its own self-interest, but it is also a cynical and morally bankrupt practice, and an absolute catastrophe for our system of self-governance.
In a democratic republic such as ours, voters choose the people who represent their interests within the framework of our government. When those in power flip that script and instead start choosing their voters -whether it be through Voter ID laws, gerrymandering, or any other ethically challenged method- that form of government is nothing but a sham; an illegitimate institution likely to ultimately collapse under the weight of its own corruption.
In the meantime, most voters with their ever-present photo IDs simply do not care that Voter ID laws are currently disenfranchising countless thousands of their fellow citizens. The sooner we all accept this fact, the sooner we can begin countering these laws in ways which might actually have a chance of success, rather than continuing down the same futile path.
The first step would be to expand the vote in other ways; making it easier for all citizens to cast a ballot. This strategy has already been taken up by several states, with Illinois recently becoming the sixth state to automatically register voters when interacting with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or other select public agencies; unless a person declines to do so.
Oregon, the lone state to have run an election with this system in place, saw a notable uptick in voter participation in this year’s May primary from 2012.
Many are now calling for automatic registration nationwide, as well as a federal holiday on Election Day to give all voters full and equal opportunity to participate in our democratic process. Both are fantastic ideas and should enjoy broad support. That said, neither would do much to help people in Voter ID states who currently don’t possess ID and would have difficulty procuring it.
Being registered to vote and having that vote be counted are two very different things.
To aid those who are running afoul of Voter ID laws, I propose that the federal government provide funding to local post offices and libraries to act as intermediaries between low-income and rural voters and their state DMV.
Both currently serve a similar function in aiding the State Department in issuing passports. Why couldn’t they do the same for voters in need of photo ID?
Post offices especially could aid in reaching rural voters for whom traveling to a metropolitan area to obtain ID is a burdensome requirement. Why not allow letter carriers, or a designated person from the post office or library, to visit these people, take a photograph and then ensure that the necessary paperwork is properly delivered to the state DMV for processing and issuance of ID?
For residents who lack the documentation to prove they are who they say they are, the government could also mandate that states must accept as proof-of-identity, a signed affidavit from a letter carrier willing to vouch for that person.
Throw in a little extra money to subsidize the cost of acquiring ID for the poor or indigent, and most of the damage done by Voter ID laws will have been undone, while strengthening post offices and libraries across the country in the process. This seems like a much easier idea to sell than trying to convince most Americans that producing photo ID when voting is a genuine burden to anyone.
Finally, federal lawmakers considering a slate of election reform would be wise to address voter fraud, seeing as how that’s how this whole thing began. Voters are correct to be concerned about the sanctity of their vote, and the government should do everything within its power to ensure voting results to be as secure and accurate as possible.
Voter fraud at the ballot box seems pretty well covered between Voter ID laws and the legal penalties that predated them. What about other forms of voter fraud which Voter ID does nothing about?
As Stalin wryly noted, “The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.” We need to strengthen protections at voting’s ground level to ensure the vote is conducted fairly and above board, and that all ballots are accurately counted.
Across the country, the infatuation with electronic voting machines seems to (thankfully!) be fading. These machines are notoriously easy to hack, and in cases where no paper trail is produced, the vote count is equally easy to manipulate by unscrupulous election officials. It seems that given the lengths we are willing to go to address a mostly nonexistent problem like in-person voter fraud, we should devote at least some attention to votes being stolen on a potentially much greater scale.
…and with an ease that in-person fraudsters could only dream of.
Thus, the final part of any reform should ensure that, at a minimum, a verifiable paper trail exists when voting machines or electronic counters are being used, while also establishing national standards for our elections and those entrusted with conducting them.
These standards should cover a wide range of issues, including but not limited to base-line standards for voting equipment; minimum requirements for access to the ballot and/or polling places; as well as finer details like basic training requirements for poll-workers and the information they are required to provide voters.
Reforms of this nature would help shore up a broken system sorely in need of repair…as this year’s primaries demonstrated with uncomfortable clarity.
Of course, getting the government to act is admittedly the weak link in this plan; especially given how much both major political parties seem to view voting rights as a struggle between sides, rather than a fundamental American institution.
Still, that doesn’t mean people of conscience shouldn’t continue making the case for protecting the sanctity of the vote without denying entire groups of people their vote in the process.
All I ask is to stop framing the issue in a manner which clearly doesn’t concern most voters. Focus instead on a broader picture of which Voter ID is only a small slice. Focus instead on creating an electoral environment where anyone who wants to vote can do so easily and the accuracy of that vote is unimpeachable.
That’s an idea most Americans can get excited about!