Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Photo ID laws shouldn’t be used for sanctioned intimidation; right to vote should be sacred

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Originally published on on Wed, 04/30/2008 – 8:54am

“As an American, I have the right to vote for my leaders. Millions of men and women died for my right to vote. In other countries, they don’t even get to vote. Voting is a freedom that I shouldn’t take for granted.”

Admittedly, I’m paraphrasing here, but this is the vision that I grew up believing, and thought that we were supposed to believe about the United States. When thousands of 18, 19, and 20-year-olds were dying in Vietnam, the 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age to 18, was justified since if they were old enough to die for their country, they were old enough to vote.

But after reading about the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision to uphold Indiana’s strict photo ID law, I know the first paragraph of this essay never was true. Well, there have been other issues: voters being turned away in Missouri in 2000 and Ohio in 2004, people illegally taken off the rolls in Florida in 2000, intimidation and underhanded tactics, and too many others to mention her.

There are many in this country, and perhaps many who read these pages who honestly wonder what the big deal is with showing photo ID when going to vote. And on paper, I could agree with that sentiment. But the reality is a different story.

Here is the exact wording of the requirements from the Indiana Secretary of State’s office. All 4 criteria must be met:

1. Display your photo

2. Display your name, and the name must conform to your voter registration record. Conform does not mean identical. Below are examples of names that would conform to “Robert John Crew”

* Robert John Crew
* Robert J. Crew
* Robert Crew
* R. John Crew
* R. J. Crew

* Bob John Crew
* Bob J. Crew
* Bob Crew
* John Crew
* J. Crew

3. Display an expiration date and either be current or have expired sometime after the date of the last General Election (November 7, 2006)

* Including Military IDs with expiration does of “INDEF”

4. Be issued by the State of Indiana or the U.S. government

One intriguing provision: college IDs that meet the whole criteria are acceptable, provided the institution is an Indiana state school. So if you go to Indiana University or Purdue University, you are fine. If you go to Notre Dame, you’re out of luck.

Then there is this paragraph:

“If you are unable or unwilling to present ID meeting these requirements, you may cast a provisional ballot. If you cast a provisional ballot, you have until noon 10 days after the election to follow up with the county election board and either provide the necessary documentation or affirm one of the law’s exemptions applies to you.”

Well, we’ve seen what happens with provisional ballots, so faith will be a little lacking in that mode. Plus, if you can’t get out easily due to physical health, you then have to go out again in that 10-day period and hope the system works.

Provisions 2 and 3 contain vague notions, with the discretion going to the polling judge. While most polling judges do the honorable thing, we do have a system where a polling judge tells voters that the stylus is actually a pen with invisible ink.

What makes the Indiana law, and other similar laws such as the ones in Florida designed to intimidate registering new voters, a bad thing for democracy is the element of institutionalized intimidation. No matter how pretty and wonderful we make our system, there will always be underhanded tactics to undermine the right to vote. But when the government gets involved and sanctions intimidation, we have that much less democracy in this country. The Supreme Court has sanctioned a decision that assumes you don’t have the right to vote unless you can prove otherwise.

As for the Republicans who have lined up behind these bills, they may not realize that documents can be forged, and that polling judges aren’t going to be experts on what passes for legitimate IDs. What you end up with is legitimate people not voting, and having that approved by the government. All for a bill that addresses an issue that no one can say actually exists, i.e., voter fraud.

We love praising our system as being the best, but a better system lies just to the north: Canada. Elections Canada is set up as a nonpartisan organization that maintains voter rolls. The country has three days — Friday, Saturday and Monday, the 10th, 9th and 7th days before polling day — for advance voting.

And while there are now more stringent voter ID laws in Canada, they have a provision where “an elector may instead take an oath and be vouched for by another elector whose name is on the list of electors for the same polling division.”

In Canada, you have the assumed right to vote, you just have to prove you are you. And the standards are reasonable. But it also helps when you know the voter rolls are maintained in a nonpartisan manner, thereby increasing the integrity of the process.

In Canada, the right to vote is protected much more so than in the United States, even without the new laws. These new laws will only make things worse. And no offense to our Canadian friends, but if we are several steps below Canada in true voting democracy, we have no reason to brag.


Written by democracysoup

April 30, 2008 at 8:54 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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