Thursday, February 09, 2012

Voter ID is not about the majority

In the midst of the debate over requiring all voters at all elections to show government-issued photo identification, polls showing majority support are occasionally cited as justification for this initiative. It's true. A majority of people see no issue with requiring voters to show ID. This isn't surprising since most people have some form of government-issued ID, typically a driver's license.

But here's the thing. The opposition to House Bill 934, the voter ID bill currently before the Pennsylvania General Assembly, has never been about the majority. We know and have always known that most people have ID.

But we also know that a significant percentage of U.S. citizens, approximately 11 percent, do not have the ID required by HB 934 and would struggle to produce the documentation PennDOT requires to get an ID. Who are they? They are disproportionately seniors, blacks, people living in poverty, and people with disabilities. 

Take a look at the groups in Protect Our Vote, the coalition advocating against voter ID. It includes Black Political Empowerment Project, Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Conference of the NAACP, the Alliance for Retired Americans, Project H.O.M.E., SeniorLAW Center. These are organizations that represent particular communities that are at higher risk of losing the vote if HB 934 passes.

The ACLU has a well-deserved reputation for defending anyone whose rights are endangered, regardless of race, religion, income, etc. But whose rights are most frequently at risk? It's relatively rare that we advocate at the state capitol for people who live comfortable lives. It's relatively rare that we advocate for people who are like those in power at the legislature and in the governor's office. We will if there is a legitimate issue at hand. But our fellow Americans whose rights are most at risk are also those communities who are most likely to be marginalized by the majority population, due to any number of factors, including race and ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, income, disability, etc.

We fail as a nation when we are unable to empathize with those who lead lives that are different from ours. As we recognize Black History Month, we must never forget that the struggle for the right to vote- a struggle that took nearly 200 years to make right- has never been about the majority or the powerful. And that's why HB 934, our voter ID bill, cannot pass.

House Bill 934 is currently before the state Senate Appropriations Committee. It is critical that you contact your state senator to ask him or her to vote "NO" on voter ID. You can learn more about this issue and find your senator's contact information at this link.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why would organizations for senior citizens be against Voter ID?

My father was a senior citizen and did NOT have a driver's license. Yet, he had identification he could use when voting, or banking, or whenever it was needed.

Why was my father able to get this ID and other seniors and/or minorities can't?

4:57 PM  
Anonymous Jeff Garis said...

A worthwhile question. Your father was fortunate that he was able to get identification, although it's not clear that even the ID that he had would meet the narrow list of acceptable forms of ID in HB 934. For Pennsylvanians who were born in other states, particularly in the rural south in the 1920s, 30s, and even more recent times, birth certificates were often not issued or recorded. If they were recorded, they sometimes did not have the person's name spelled correctly and in some cases (such as women who changed their names when they got married), providing verification of the different name/spelling would be difficult, expensive, or impossible. In order to get the "free" photo ID at PennDOT, the voter will need to provide a copy of their birth certificate with their name exactly matching their name of the poll books. Getting a copy of one's birth certificate is not free ($10 for a PA birth certificate, unknown costs for other states), nor is it immediate. And as noted above, for some older voters, they will never be able to get a copy of their birth certificate. This will disenfranchise voters, some of whom have voted in every election at the same polling place & who are known by every pollworker at that location -- and it will certainly disenfranchise voters who only learn of the new requirement when they go to vote on election day this Fall.

But your questions ignore the bigger questions, which is "why is this legislation necessary" and "why are some officials, like Gov. Corbett, so obsessed with enacting this now, in time for the high-turnout Presidential election this Fall"? In his years as attorney general, Tom Corbett NEVER prosecuted a single case of voter identity fraud. This is because PA already has adequate safeguards in place for voters to prove their identity. All voters are required to sign-in when they vote in PA, and the signature is immediately compared to the signature on file on the voter registation rolls. And first-time voters at a polling place are required to provide proof of identity & proof of residency at the address on their registration card -- this can be a driver's license, but it can also be a copy of lease agreement or a utility bill issued in the voter's name & at the address where they are registered to vote. Furthermore, attempting to influence the outcome of an election by voting multiple times and under different names (after forging a signature that one has never seen before & while hoping that the pollworkers don't know the voter you are attempting to impersonate), is very time-consuming, inefficient, and risky. That's probably why there have been no proven cases of voter identity fraud in at least the past decade in PA, even after investigations into 4 cases where voter identity fraud was alleged. The question becomes, "how many thousands of citizens are we willing to deprive of their right to vote in the name of stopping at most (and I'm being very generous to Voter ID supporters) a handful of 'suspicious' votes cast over the course of a decade (but, more likely & in the eyes of the law, not a SINGLE documented case of voter identity fraud in PA)?" This does not seem to me to be "the American Way".

And don't even get me started on the number of citizens who will not be deprived of their vote because they are unable or do not have the time to stand in line for hours at their polling place as pollworkers have to "card" and record the info for every voter in a high turnout Presidential election.

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Thanks for a great explanation, Jeff, but you left out one important consideration - in Wisconsin, as soon as new voter ID laws passed, Governor Scott Walker immediately announced that the state was "saving money" by shutting down a number of DMV locations - which all 'happened' to be in heavily Democratic districts - many with large populations of minority or elderly voters.

Scott Walker has a habit of ruining the GOP's whole game by showing his cards too early, and for that we should all thank him. He provided the best evidence so far that this is not about fraud at all, but specifically about creating a partisan electoral advantage by stripping voters of their rights.

10:17 AM  

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