It may come as a surprise to some of you who know me to hear that I am in favor of Voter ID. I think that having a standardized method of identifying valid voters, and limiting those voters to a single vote, is a great idea. I don’t think we have much of an in-person voter fraud problem in the United States, but I’m a big believer in being better safe than sorry.
However, my objection to the current spate of Voter ID laws is that, from my perspective, they have been designed for no purpose other than to disenfranchise Democratic voters in Republican-controlled states during the upcoming 2012 elections. You can quibble with this if you like, but given that there is not an in-person, voter identity fraud problem in this country, these laws are not designed to fix something that’s broken. As they stand today, they are designed solely to limit the ability to vote for those who do not currently have a proper photo ID and who would have difficulty in getting one in time to vote, which are primarily poor/Democratic voters.
I currently live a lifestyle such that having a valid, acceptable form of photo identification is not something I ever have to think about. I have a drivers license and a passport, and although they aren’t always 100% current (because I’m lazy and/or forgetful), I can easily afford the time and costs involved to keep them up to date, and have easy access to all necessary supporting documentation.
However, that has not always been the case for me, and isn’t the case for many, many Americans. These Americans still have a right to vote, however, even if they have not navigated the myriad processes necessary to obtain an acceptable photo ID and to keep it current. Again, for those of us of a certain means, it may sound ludicrous to state that having a valid photo ID is a burden, but it is for a large number of people.
As an indicator, current estimates indicate that 6% of Americans don’t have broadband internet access today. To those of us who are ‘connected’, it’s difficult to conceive of someone living a disconnected lifestyle. Some of the disconnected simply choose not to connect even though they have the means, but many of them do not have the wherewithal or circumstance that allows for digital connectivity.
Now picture a disconnected person trying to get a photo ID. How do they even learn the process? Go down to the DMV? What if they don’t drive and there isn’t mass transportation where they live? What if they work a job where getting away during municipal office hours is difficult or impossible? What if they don’t have a copy of their birth certificate? What if the cost of getting their birth certificate and/or photo ID comes down to a choice between feeding their children or getting an ID?
Consider not only the costs for documents, but the lost income from taking off of work, and the potential of being let go if they start spending hours away from work to duel with the faceless, uncaring paperwork bureaucracy. Consider that if they choose to risk precious time away from work, they might have competing priorities, like taking themselves (or their children) to the doctor. Consider that they might have to bum a ride from someone to get to the government offices – but may have to choose between burning the favor to help with getting an ID versus getting a ride to the grocery store or clinic.
This paperwork burden and time investment can prove difficult for someone of limited means to undertake. I know that for those of us of a certain economic level it may be difficult to relate and/or easy for us to sit in our ivory towers and say that the right to vote is sacred and that these people should prioritize paperwork above everything other competing need. But in the heat of living a life where you hang by your fingernails from day to day, that’s a difficult choice to make.
However, I think this problem should be addressed, once and for all. I think that after the current election, there should be a national, bi-partisan movement to setup a single, national Voter ID standard, and that acquisition of that ID needs to be 100% absolutely free of cost, require absolutely minimal in-person presence, and have options available for any necessary commuting/travel. There should also be a concerted effort to educate and inform all voters of all means as to what this free process entails. This avoids the ‘poll tax’ problem, and starting it after the upcoming election gives everyone enough time to address their ID problems before the next election cycle.
I think this needs to be done at the federal level, because my take is that if it is left to the states then Voter ID will continue to be a partisan voter-disenfranchisement tool rather than a voter-enablement tool. Also, I think having a single Voter ID authority will set the stage to allow for voting to move into the 21st (or at least late 20th) century, such as by creating an infrastructure that could be leveraged for online voting.
So, I am very much in favor of a reasonable and fair Voter ID system, setup in a non-partisan way, that does not impose a ‘poll tax’, and which is instituted with enough lead time such that all potential valid voters will have the time to navigate the process. Let’s enfranchise *and* identify all valid voters, because there’s is nothing more American than a free and fair election for all.