Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Voter Suppression or Voter Security?

So this controversy has been going on for years. Some people want to make stricter requirements for identification at the voting booth and others accuse them of attempting to suppress the votes of poor people who may not have easy access to official identification. It's getting serious now as a number of laws are actually going into effect (and with a Presidential election on the horizon, likely decided by a very few voters in a very few states) and people are getting nuts about it.

For a long time I didn't give it much thought; quite honestly, it seemed like a convenient political football for the two sides to throw back and forth - and one that really wasn't all that dangerous.

I, like many others (almost 70% of Americans) think it would be pretty easy to commit voter fraud. I've never been asked to do anything but sign that I voted (they were supposed to compare my signature with the signature I used to register, but the poll worker never even looked).

At the same time, there's very little evidence that voter fraud occurs in the kind of numbers that make any numerical difference in elections. (It absolutely occurs, don't get me wrong - there's just never been any evidence it has swung any elections any time in the recent past). We've heard the stories (apocryphal or not) of Chicago mob bosses and third world dictators stuffing the ballot boxes with votes from dead people - but the reality is that just doesn't happen in the US today to any degree that matters statistically.

Still, in this day and age where life and death seem to ride on election results for some people, it's not too tough to imagine a scheme like our worst fears actually happening. People across the spectrum want to see us be a little stricter on how we identify voters.

I doubt even opponents of these voter-ID laws would have a problem with that - if it were done in ways that don't make it more difficult for some people.

I've always said that if these laws go into effect, the State should issue ID cards (not driver's licenses) for free. That way there's no defacto poll tax (even a small one) for voters.

This week, however, I've been exposed to some additional complications. The State of Georgia, for example, due to budget concerns, no longer has a single DMV within the city limits of Atlanta, a city of 400,000 people. Those with a lack of transportation would have a pretty tough time getting an ID.

To make things even more difficult, it was brought to my attention that many black people over the age of 60 who were born in the South don't have birth certificates. Before the Civil Rights movement many hospitals would not take black patients and many black children were born at home with no official record. With new laws in place for 2012, no state is allowed to issue an official ID of any kind without a number of forms of ID, one of them being a birth certificate.

I know from experience, this can be a confusing process. My wife had to go three times to the DMV in New Jersey and had to pay for a new birth certificate from New Hampshire because her original one no longer complied with US law. If there had been no birth certificate in the first place, who knows how long or even if she could have ever proven she was born in the US.

Some people would like to make this a partisan issue (and perhaps there's some knowledgeable persons in each party doing just that), I have to believe it's more of a cultural illiteracy issue. I never would have imagined how difficult or near impossible it could be for someone to get an ID. I always thought the problem was coughing up $40 to pay for it. The problem is bigger and deeper than all that. I suspect lots of well-meaning people voting for these things are in the same boat.

That being said, I don't think this changes anyone's mind that it wouldn't be a bad idea to be a little more secure in our voting processes (my last vote in NJ, they had three sets of previous residents at our address still on the rolls as active voters). It's going to take some more care on the part of election commissions and volunteers for sure. It's also going to take some creative means of identification.

I find it hard to believe anyone would want to withhold voting privileged because of an inability to get to a DMV or the fact their birth certificate doesn't exist.

A week ago I was clueless as to why this was a problem; now I'm not. Perhaps this post can help other people to engage and together maybe we can figure out a better way to secure our voting system and also enable everyone who wants to vote to exercise that privilege.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like your perspective on this. I ran into a problem with proving my identity when Janie and I lived in Ohio and a pickpocket got my wallet. They didn't accept my original Registration of Live Birth" that PA used to issue simply because it didn't say "certificate" anywhere on it. I had to jump through hoops to prove who I was.

Jon Bemis