Barriers to your right to vote: 2012

Let’s take a look at the laws currently in place and being introduced every year requiring ID to vote. I’m indebted for much of my data here to the NCSL Voter Identification Requirements webpage. Go there to see a great map (that unfortunately will not let itself be pasted here).

Strict photo: There are currently five states that require you to have a photo ID before you can vote—Kansas, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Tennessee, and Georgia. Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas have strict photo laws pending. Wisconsin’s strict photo law was declared unconstitutional by its state legislature but is being appealed and could be put into effect by November 2012. So that would make 9 states with strict photo requirements by the end of 2012. At the start of 2011, only Georgia and Indiana had these requirements, so the number has shot up quickly.

What constitutes a photo ID is defined variously in the different states; some do not give examples but merely say it must be issued by the federal government (passport), state government (driver’s license), city government, or military. Pennsylvania includes IDs from “an accredited PA private or public institution of higher learning (student ID) or a PA care facility”. Kansas specifically names “government-issued concealed carry handgun or weapon license”, so if you own a gun, you get to vote. In Mississippi, if you have a religious conviction against being photographed you can sign an affidavit instead of presenting a photo ID.

Photo: There are currently six states requiring a photo ID—Hawaii, Idaho, South Dakota, Michigan, Louisiana, and Florida. Alabama has a photo ID law pending. The photo ID law, as opposed to “strict photo,” asks voters to show a photo ID but allows other proofs if they don’t have one, such as a voter with a photo ID vouching for you, giving your birth date, or signing an affadavit swearing to your identity.

Non-photo: Eighteen states require non-photo ID—Alaska, Washington, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, South Carolina, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Rhode Island is filing for a change to a photo requirement. Non-photo ID includes bank statements, utility bills, and other items mailed to your local address.

No ID: That leaves 30 states with no ID requirement for voting.

What happens if you show up and attempt to vote but you don’t have your state’s required ID? It varies—and here’s where the fundamental emptiness of these laws comes through. In some states, if the local election official knows you, s/he can waive the law. In others, you sign an affidavit. In others, you fill out a provisional ballot which will be counted if you provide ID before the close of voting, or if the county board of election officials decides to accept it. In short, you go ahead and fill out your ballot in most states and if you plead your case it will be accepted.

The kicker here is that in many states, your case is accepted if your name is on the poll list. Which takes us back to square one: in the U.S., all you need to vote is to register. When you register, you are asked to produce ID saying that you are a citizen of the U.S. and have residency in your state. Once you’ve registered, your name goes into the poll list—that big book the election officials find your name in when you go up to them on election day. If your name is on that list, you have already fulfilled the requirements for voting in the U.S., and you should not be forced to show ID. You have already been verified as a U.S. citizen and state resident, and those are the only requirements. Adding photo ID requirements, then, is the equivalent of a poll tax or literacy test, tactics used during the lowest years of Jim Crow to prevent the poor and black Americans from voting. Forcing people to pay a fee to vote, or prove their English literacy, has been declared illegal in this country. Forcing people to show photo ID should be illegal, too.

Who are the people without valid photo IDs in this country? The elderly, who often no longer drive or use a passport; the poor (who are often non-white); and, importantly, illegal immigrants. It is this last group who are the real targets of photo ID laws. Americans have been told there is an epidemic of voting fraud in this country, and that it is being carried out by illegal immigrants. But independent inquiries have turned up no such epidemic, and illegal immgrants are the last people to willingly risk having their status found out by attempting to vote. If you think about it, describing voter fraud in 2012 as someone amassing millions of names, getting them into the list of registered voters, then getting those millions of people to go vote illegally is absurd. Any voting fraud carried out today would be a hacking of the computer systems that tabulate votes, not a hacking of your local registered voters database at town hall.

Photo ID laws are blatant attempts to restrict voting rights. They impact the poor, the non-white, and the elderly—groups assumed to vote Democratic, which may explain the strong Republican backing for these laws. If your name is on the poll list there is no constitutional law requiring you to show more ID than that. Until the accusations of voting fraud are proved, we should all be fighting on our local state level against these laws.

Freedom to Vote Threatened… again

In Spring 2011, a bloc of Republican legislators and governors renewed the push to end alleged rampant voting fraud in the U.S. by requiring that people registered to vote show a government-issued photo ID, like a driver’s license, in order to vote. This caused an angry reaction amongst opponents of any move to set up what they call barriers to voting. Which side is right? What does the Constitution say about voting?

Surprisingly little. There is nothing about voting rights in the original body of the Constitution. That first Constitution simply states that officers of the government will be chosen by the People and the Electors. There were many Amendments made to the original Constitution in a very short time, and by 1791 the Twelfth Amendment addressed voting only to explain how the Electoral College was supposed to work. The Fifteenth Amendment extended the vote to black males in 1870, and the Seventeenth Amendment gave the People the right to vote directly for their Senators in 1913. In 1920, the Ninteenth Amendment extended the vote to women of all races, the Twenty-Fourth Amendment in 1964 abolished the poll tax. Finally, in 1971, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment made age eighteen the legal voting age.

So if there is nothing in the Constitution about who can vote, how can asking for photo ID be wrong, or illegal?

If we look at the six Amendments that address voting, we see that all but one—the one about the Electoral College—expands the definition of who can vote. Black men and then all women are given the vote, people are allowed to vote directly for their Senators (who had previously been chosen by the Electoral College), younger people can vote (voting age had been 21). Most significantly of all, the Twenty-Fourth Amendment in 1964 abolished the poll tax. Poll taxes were a shameful tool of white supremacists, who set up fees that “everyone” had to pay in order to vote. In reality, only black people were forced to pay a fee in order to vote, and the white supremacists running the polls made sure it was so expensive for most black citizens to pay the poll tax that they simply could not vote. It was an effective way of stripping black Americans of their right to vote and of keeping Civil Rights legislation moving at a snail’s pace, since only white people were voting, and most in the South did not vote for people who supported that legislation.

So the sum of all Constitutional Amendments regarding voting since 1870 has been to let more people vote, and to keep the process just. No one has to pay to vote in this c0untry. It is the right of a citizen to vote. All people have to do is register.

There have, of course, been ongoing attempts to make voting very difficult for the poor and the non-white. Minimal staffing at government offices ensure hours-long waits for registration, and often those who register find that they are not on the list of registered voters at their polling places. Polling places are often few and far between in poor districts, again ensuring a long drive or bus ride to the polling place and another hours-long wait to vote. Votes from poor districts are sometimes “lost” on the way to the official tallying places. Everything but a poll tax has been put in place to maintain the white and powerful status quo.

The reason usually given for these hindrances to voting is that there has been voting fraud—in poor and non-white districts only. The implication here is that of course the poor and non-white are not honest, and that the immigrants who make up this group either don’t understand democracy or want to destroy it. We have to protect the U.S. from immigrants, the poor, and the non-white, and so we must police voting very closely.

Evidence of massive and continual voting fraud is never presented, just as the hindrances already in place in underserved districts’ polling places are never acknowledged. Asking for a government photo ID is a blatant attempt to reinstate a racial and ethnic barrier to voting. Advocates say, Everyone has a driver’s license, so what’s the big deal? The only people who don’t have a driver’s license are illegal immigrants, and they shouldn’t be voting anyway. Those against the ID respond that many people don’t have a driver’s license, including many elderly people and some physically impaired people.

But the problem is not that photo IDs are not as common as we think. It’s that asking for anything but proof of registration—having your name on the list of voters for your polling place—is a poll tax. It’s a barrier to voting. It makes it harder for some citizens to vote, for no good reason. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say you have to have proof of citizenship to vote. You need that to register, and if you are registered, and your name is on the list at your polling place when you show up to vote, you do not have to show any further proof of your right to be there.

Once we demand proof of citizenship at the polling place, we may as well—and might well—ask for a small fee to be paid, or your photo to be taken, or your signature on a loyalty oath. This is not our democracy. We have to fight any attempt to require ID or any other proofs of citizenship or loyalty at the polling place vigorously, or our next Amendment will be a giant step backward from the previous five.