Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Voting and Identity

I voted in a local election on August 6, 2013, my second visit to the polling place in my brand new home in a different state. When I applied and paid for vehicle license plates and a state driving license, the clerk offered to help me register to vote. As a retiree, I have more time to take care of this sort of duty, but I also have less energy for it so I was grateful for her suggestion and one-stop shopping.

"Somewhere in Alabama" Photo by Al Griffin.

At my designated polling place, I paused, searching for my new Voter Identification card when the polling-place worker reminded me that my driver’s license would suffice. No sooner had he spoken than the Voter ID pulled free, and I handed it over.

The other polling-place worker placed the ID on a small, low stand positioned under a bar code reader. Quickly, my name popped up on a screen, and I was asked to verify my current address, then the screen was turned toward me so that I could sign with an electronic pen. With my identity and right to vote affirmed, I took a ballot and marked it.

The entire identification process took less than a minute, including the time I wasted searching for my ID so I have no complaint about being required to identify myself in order to vote. My concern is for the misinformation that has brought us all to this place.

Some people were led to believe and still believe in spite of evidence to the contrary that new state law and stricter voter identification were needed because of rampant voter fraud. And these gullible folks never demanded that the purveyors of distortion and truthiness prove their claims. They could have and should have asked that incidents of voter fraud and stolen elections become part of argument, but apparently prepared to believe the worst about the other guy, no matter which side he stood on and for, they didn’t ask.

Here is the evidence:
  • On March 15, 2007, NPR aired a report about U.S. Attorneys being fired for not pursuing White House initiated claims of voter fraud. The attorneys did, in fact, pursue the claims and found insufficient evidence to pursue an investigation.

  • On November 20, 2007, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law released a report subtitled “…Myth of Voter Fraud.” The introduction to a bulleted list for 1) analysis and reports, 2) case studies by issue, 3) case studies by state, 4) commentary, 5) litigation, and 6) news reads, in part: “Allegations of widespread fraud by malevolent voters are easy to make, but often prove to be inflated or inaccurate. Crying ‘wolf’ when the claims are unsubstantiated distracts attention from real problems that need real solutions. Moreover, these claims are frequently used to justify policies – including restrictive photo identification rules – that could not solve the alleged wrongs, but that could well disenfranchise legitimate voters.”

  • A September 12, 2012 report from Politifact finds that “In-person voter fraud [is] ‘a very rare phenomenon.’”
  • From August through October, 2012, Moyers and Company shared posts and televised discussions about voter fraud. Just one of the archived titles provides the gist of these programs: “UFO Sightings Are More Rare than Voter Fraud.”
  • On November 6, 2012, John Wasik writing for Forbes dismisses claims of voter fraud and offers useful suggestions for insuring that all citizens have the opportunity to vote. The title for his essay reveals his thesis: “Voter Fraud: A Massive Anti-Democratic Deception.”

If you review the samples of reports dating from 2007 to 2012, you will conclude that the so-called evidence of voter fraud has been weighed, examined, re-examined, and debunked as hyperbolic and anecdotal. The problem simply does not exist on a wide scale or even in numbers so great as to alter election outcomes.

Why then are states across the nation writing and enacting voter identification laws? Indiana, in 2006, was the first state to require that voters present specific forms of identification in order to vote. Prior to that state’s action, first-time voters were asked to provide proof of identity and many states recommended that voters bring identification to the polling place, but 2006 marks the date when voters could be denied a Constitutional right without proper identification. And that denial appears to be undertaken for a false narrative; i.e., because voter fraud is rampant when, in fact, it is not, leading many to conclude that voter identification has become a “financial barrier,” a new incarnation of poll taxes that effectively disenfranchises at least 11% of voting-age citizens because they lack the means to acquire proper identification. They may not have a birth certificate, the money to acquire the certificate, and/or the funds to travel to their state’s archived birth certificates.

An additional financial barrier to voting is the need to be absent from work, especially since the number of days and hours in which voters may vote have been reduced. Some recent legislation has tried to make voting easier by allowing people to register to vote while at the Department of Motor Vehicles for a title or driving license. As I noted above, my new state home, Missouri, allows for such registration, and I approve. Still many citizens do not register resulting in a small voting bloc of our citizenry, a bit less than 60%, making decisions for the rest of us. 

We can and do register citizens in Medicare when they near the age of 65. Why then do we pretend not to know when citizens approach voting age and put all responsibility for registering on the individual, even though many of them will need to miss work in order to register and later vote. Australia and Sweden make is easier to vote and enjoy a larger percentage of their populations participating. We should, too, especially if we believe in the document that shapes our governance, one that honors participatory, representative government.

So it’s not the ID required that troubles me; it’s the spirit in which voting laws begin and end. If that spirit believes above all else that citizens should vote and all law, rules, and regulations proceed therefrom, then who among us could object? But if the spirit directs lawmakers to restrict, suspect, and limit participation, then we must protest and demand more from our lawmakers.