Ok. I've been taking a lot of heat on this one, so I want to strip away the rhetoric, and explain very clearly why I'm so opposed to this law. Don't worry, I don't expect to convert anyone over, but I hope everyone who is reading, and the few who are commenting, are going to look at this with an open mind.
There are actually a number of reasons, but I'm going to limit myself to four; one social, one political, one civil libertarian, and one Constitutional. That should be a wide enough spectrum for everyone to get good and irate.
The social reason is this. For a lot of folks, it isn't as simple as traipsing down to one's local DMV and getting an ID. In previous posts, I pointed out that the DMV in Athens isn't exactly accessible, unless you have a car, or someone to drive you. Fact is, that here in Athens, we're fairly lucky in that we actually have a DMV in the county.
Put yourself in the shoes of a senior citizen, who's living on a fixed income. And by senior, I mean really senior. You don't have a car; perhaps you're too old to drive, maybe you just can't afford one. Doesn't matter, since the bus can take you to the doctor, pharmacy, senior center, grocery store, whatever.
Who's going to take you to the DMV for that ID, if you don't have one? Friends? Family? Don't count on it, because not everybody has that kind of a network. I know from experience that there are folks out there who don't.
So again, who's taking you to the DMV? And what if you live in a rural county and the DMV is 30 or 45 minutes away or more?
I can hear the scorn now. I've created a hypothetical situation so narrow that, while it proves my point, it just isn't reflective of reality. Fair enough, but ask yourself this. It is possible that there might even be one person in Georgia in this situation? If so, (and I think that's pretty likely), then you've got to ask yourself, if just one person is disenfranchised, then what kind of damage are we doing to our liberty and our representative democracy? It’s a slippery slope, and one that I, for one, would like to stay far away from the precipice of.
Moving on to the political reason I oppose this. I think, as do many others, that this law was entirely politically motivated. If voter fraud was such a huge issue, why haven't I seen legislation to stop interest groups from handing out "tickets" or "sample ballots?" (Such legislation, by the way, would create its own Constitutional issues, but I'll refrain from getting into that.) For that matter, why no bills to stop the practice of circulating fliers around minority neighborhoods that state flatly that in order to vote you have to be paid up on your child support payments, or not be behind in utility bills, or some such nonsense. I've personally seen those tactics employed in two cities in Georgia (neither was Athens). The same folks who do that also occasionally flier neighborhoods giving the wrong day for voting, but if you're a citizen in a representative democracy you shouldn't fall for that crap, so I'm not going to give anyone a pass on that.
Back to my point. Both "sample ballots" and misleading fliering affect tens if not hundreds or thousands of votes. At the most, voting under a fake name affects one vote. If the GOP were serious about preventing voter fraud, why weren't measures to stop this kind of thing even suggested? Attached as an amendment? I submit that the GOP is very motivated by political ends in passing this bill. And again, we know these fliers are going out, we know that "street money" (which I didn't mention above) is used, we know that "sample ballots," while legal, are certainly misleading. But no noise about that?
The civil libertarian argument. I'll keep it short and sweet. If you're part of the spectrum of people, from Bob Barr to the ACLU, who questioned or opposed all or part of the Patriot Act, then I expect you to be on my side on this one too. Why? Forcing people to get government issued ID cards. I hear you out there. Driver's licenses are required. Yep, they sure are. But here's the thing. Driving is a privilege. If you abuse the privilege (for instance by driving drunk), you lose it. Voting is a right. And, here’s another slippery slope argument to go along with this. It’s a state-issued ID to vote today, what will we have to have one for tomorrow? What basic right will be threatened next?
Finally, what I think is the strongest argument - the Constitutional argument. Now, I'm no Robert Byrd, but like him, I do keep a copy of the Holy Bible and the United States Constitution within easy reach. (Would that more of our elected officials would do the same!) He keeps his in his coat pockets, mine are near the desk. I'll let the Constitution speak for itself. (Don't worry, liberal friends, I'll keep the scripture for another day.)
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
There you have it. Key phrases here are, "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity," and "to form a more perfect Union." I would submit that if even one person is disenfranchised by this law, we have failed to fully secure the blessings of liberty, and our union is less perfect as a result.
But here's the real meat of the Constitutional argument, your friend and mine, the 14th Amendment.
"But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime…"
Now before you get snarky, the "male inhabitants" part is of course, no longer operative.
The operative part is the phrase about not denying the right to vote to anyone, unless they've participated in "rebellion, or other crime." Last time I checked, being poor was not a crime. Neither was failing to get a state-issued ID. And the net result of this bill is that people will, through the bureaucracy that comes from stuff like this, be denied the right (and I cannot stress the word "right" enough) to vote. In fact, it's probably already happened.
There you have it. A long comment, a social argument, a political argument, a civil libertarian argument, and a Constitutional argument. To counter those, all I've heard is "people should just go get a stupid ID! What's the BFD?" I'd submit that's not good enough.
I’d also point out that if you’re a woman or a minority, you haven’t had the right to vote for very long, historically speaking. Over the course of history, people have fought for that right, in the streets of Boston and in the streets of Birmingham, and more places too numerous to mention here, and personally speaking, I can’t conscience any attempts to limit that right. The right to choose our representation is one of the most basic rights we have.
But hey, I'm realistic, and I don't expect to change anyone's mind. I do hope though that people who read this will at least think about the points I've made, and realize that this is about more than just people being too lazy to go get an ID.
Thanks for reading.