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Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Truth Behind Voter ID

One of two very important issues facing Minnesotans next week on Election Day is Voter ID. This measure would require all Minnesotans who wish to vote to show valid photo identification at the polls.  According to the bill’s author, Sen. Scott Newman, this initiative would add an “additional measure of integrity” to the election process.  And after all, who could possibly disagree with that?  The most important thing we can do as Americans is vote, so it’s vital that we protect that important process from the rampant problems we have here in Minnesota of voter fraud. 

It’s gotten so bad in fact, that if we look at every election since 2000 (using information compiled from a New York Times study, the Department of Justice, and voter fraud database, as reported from the MinnPost), the number of cases of alleged voter fraud has now reached double digits.  That’s right 10.  10 cases. Of the millions upon millions of votes cast in the last 12 years in Minnesota, 10 people have allegedly voted illegally. Yes, that is only allegedly.  On top of that, 8 of those cases were of felons who cast votes.  I don’t know the details on this exactly.  But I’m pretty sure that there is no law against a felon having a valid photo ID.  So, unfortunately, this whole voter ID law doesn’t prevent that problem.

Minnesota might be sitting pretty, but nationally it does make sense to require voter ID because since 2000, among the hundreds and hundreds of millions of votes cast across the country, total convictions for voter fraud is almost to triple digits now, up to 96.  Of that number, only 29.2% of those convictions were to actual voters (The rest were shady vote counters and petition fraud). Pretty scare stuff huh? 

So it begs the question, if voter fraud isn’t actually a problem, why have so many states gone through the hassle of instituting such measures?  The answer, sadly, is voter suppression.  It makes a whole lot of sense when you think about it.  If you don’t like who people are voting for…don’t let them vote.  Now, the brains behind voter ID can’t just go around telling people who they disagree with that they can’t vote, but they can come up with a facially neutral policy that would go into place for all voters.   Then they can act shocked and confused when the end result is a policy that adversely impacts a group of people who all happen to be individuals that would have voted for their opponents.  The scary part is that this attitude is actually winning the debate.  We are not taking long enough to dig deep and look at the consequences of this proposal and the millions of Americans who are disenfranchised as a result.  

If we take a look at the numbers, we can begin to see who these people are that are actually impacted. 25% of African-Americans and 16% of Latinos under the age of 29 do not have government issued photo ID.  Assuming turnout numbers similar to the last election, if voter ID were fully instituted there would be over 788,000 minorities under 30 who are no longer eligible to vote.  Furthermore, 15% of people who make under $35K do not have photo ID, as well in the estimated 15% of people 65 or older are without proper ID.  In total, 11% of our electorate does not currently have proper identification, and could be barred from the voting booth.

Now, as a 24 year old white smartass who grew up in the ‘burbs, I’m not going to call this Jim Crow (rather, I’ll hint at it and let you make the jump), but I ask you to think back to your high school history classes and recall poll taxes and literacy tests. They certainly weren’t there to raise money for a new building project or to make sure everyone caught up on the news from the Sunday morning paper. No, they were instead a systematic way of removing certain people from the electorate, and that is EXACTLY what voter ID laws do today.

The discriminatory nature aside voter ID also has a heavy financial burden on those involved.  In Minnesota, it is estimated that it will cost that state around $77Million (according to The Citizens for Election Integrity) to implement.  Which is no big deal really, it’s not like money issues got so bad in this state that it was forced to literally shut down last year. There is also an additional cost of between $16-$72 million dollars that will come out of the hands of Minnesotans as they try to attain the needed documents in order to get that valid ID.  This cost either means money that will not be spent in the local economy, or it just means that people will say forget it, and not even bother voting (which is what the creators of this amendment are banking on).

So discriminatory nature aside, the enormous cost aside, does anyone actually know what implementation of this amendment will look like? The answer to this is, as you probably guessed, a resounding NO.  Why? Because the details behind this proposal haven’t even been written yet.  The ballot on Election Day will ask the simple question about requiring voter ID and how to provide valid ID.  It will not mention what is a valid ID.  Nor will it answer questions about how certification of provisional ballots is done. Absentee voting and same day registration issues are still yet to be determined as well.  Minnesotans are being asked to amend their state constitution without any idea of what that amendment does or means.  Even with many states now moving to implement voter restriction of this kind, only Mississippi has tried to alter their constitution to do it. 

Supporters of voter ID, of which I know many, including some of my closest friends and family, argue that if voting is important to people then they should get an ID. Many states will provide people interested in these ID cards one at no cost.  Fair enough, right? Unfortunately, in many states it’s not that easy (who knows what it will actually mean for Minnesota).  First, you need an address. So to those who are homeless across the country (who realistically could use the representation most), you may be out of luck unless you can somehow attain sponsorship from participating homeless shelters.  Second, you need to go down to the government office where they issue ID cards.  While this technically doesn’t exclude anyone right away, those who live in rural areas, or those for do not have access to public transportation might be out at this point (remember, no drivers licenses or cars). Sorry to the elderly who are most likely to be disenfranchised by this issue.  Now assuming someone makes it down to the office, they should be home free as long as they can provide proof of residency and in some cases a birth certificate.  In most places you must pay for your original birth certificate (there goes the notion of “free”) and must provide a photo ID so they can be assured that you are the rightful owner of the certificate.  Anyone else catch the issue we’ve got here? 
But Logan, we have to show an ID for everything we do in life: drive, fly, and get drunk at The Plaza? I agree.  We pretty much do show ID for everything these days. The key distinction is that all of those things are not rights.  You have no right to drive, fly, or enjoy $2 Long Islands; those are all privileges and choices that you make (and often regret the following morning).  You have a RIGHT to vote.  The 14th, 15th, 17th, 19th, 23rd, 24th, and 26th amendments are there to outline and protect everyone’s right to vote.  That means over 40% of the amendments to our constitution after the Bill of Rights are specifically there to protect our rights to vote.
Knowing now that those impacted by these laws are the elderly, students, and minorities, it is not surprising that the supporters of voter ID are often republicans and members of the tea party.  Still not convinced?  Well how about I just have them tell you directly what Voter ID is meant to do.  Here is Republican House Leader, Mike Turzai explaining the real motives for instituting Voter ID in Pennsylvania.

Political opportunism is frustrating, but happens.  Voter ID is political opportunism at its most obvious.  The notion that this is just political maneuvering distracts from the heart of the issue.  It is not just Democrats that are affected, so are Republicans and Independents, Libertarians and Socialists.  The real people who are impacted are the poor, the elderly, students and minorities, and adding restrictions to their voting rights in our state's consitution could permanetnly disenfranchse them.  If we chose to look at this as only political opportunism, we lose sight of the dangers that laws like this possess. 

My entire voting life has been spent in relatively liberal states and more specifically in very liberal cities (which seems to me to be a bit redundant), so my success rate in seeing the people I vote for get put into office is pretty low, and by low I mean A-Rod’s batting average in the playoffs low (there is our sports reference and Yankee jab, this article is now Accidental Commentary approved). But you will never EVER convince me that the way to get the end result of elections to go my way is by restricting the voices of those who may disagree with me.  For many people around the country it’s too late to fight these discriminatory amendments with votes, and they must now rely on the courts to sort out these issues.  But for those of us in Minnesota, we still have the opportunity to stand up to tactics that should have died in the Deep South in the 19th century.  As the state that has consistently ranked #1 in voter turnout across the country, we have a responsibility to show that we value every single person’s voice and beliefs, even if we disagree. 


Anonymous said...

How much voter fraud is okay before you'll accept Voter ID? Just curious as to where your integrity threshold is.

Seems to me that regardless of how many 'reported' cases there are, isn't even one wrong?

Logan said...

First of all, thanks for the comment and reading.

Secondly, I agree, even one is wrong and needs to be addressed. I just disagree with this method as a response. 1. I don't see it working and 2. In the process we disenfranchise a lot of voters who simply want to exercise their right as Americans. The idea of stopping thousands from voting to make sure a couple people who shouldn't vote from casting ballots doesn't seem like a reasonable solution. I'm all for fixing the problems in the system, just don't believe that this is the appropriate way to do it. Thanks again.