Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Voter ID Bill, some food for thought

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.


Buck Laughlin said...

Not that it is directly ID-related, but would you be in favor of requiring voters, Iraqi-style, to dip their fingers into a colored dye to prevent repeat voting?

I guess my question is this: are you in favor of any measure that designed to reduce the chance of voter fraud?

I mean, if it's all about expanding the franchise, why have any standards at all? Why not throw open the door to anyone who wants to vote, as often as he or she wants to, regardless of standing or citizenship?

This is a simple requirement: prove to us, to a reasonable degree of certitude, that you are who you say you are. If that simple requirement (which most people thought was law to begin with) is an undue burden, we will help you meet that burden. We will bring the bus to your town and give you an ID. And, if even that is too difficult, we will let you vote without an ID, giving you a provisional ballot and then confirming your ID afterwards.

No. None of that is good enough, because, frankly, nothing is ever good enough: any measure that seeks to reduce voter fraud will be opposed by those who believe they stand to benefit from voter fraud.


RandomThoughts said...

I do not have a problem with a system that requires voters to prove who they are. I have a problem with how this bill was enacted. In my opinion BEFORE you require an ID you MUST be sure that EVERY citizen entitled to vote has that ID. That's only reasonable. But don't worry. Unfortunately, many will not care enough about voting to use their ID anyway.

Anonymous said...

This is SO not about preventing voter fraud it's laughable. This is about targeting traditional democratic voters and preventing their vote. Period. It is absurd that these holier than thou Repubs lack both the imagination and compassion to grasp that not everyone lives in their SUV driving world. And as usual, when called on their bigoted behavior, they turn it into an attack on the poor. Thing is, they wouldn't be attacking us so openly if they weren't worried, and rightly so, esp. here in GA. The NEW Democrats are registering and moving voters to the polls in huge numbers, and Republicans know that it's only a matter of time before their elitist policies cost them at the ballot box. This was just a pre-emptive strike to keep their opponents from voting. And it's just the kind of punitive, vindictive measure we have come to expect from Republicans. Keep up the good work, guys, we'll remember in November!


hillary said...

And you don't even mention absentee ballots, which is another point falling under the political argument.

I'm on your side to begin with, Publius, but I found this inspiring.

Publius said...

Ok... for all the comments. I'm going to respond to a few things. Actually, I've kind of changed my mind about one thing I said - I am trying to convert a few of y'all.

Hilary, thanks for the kind words. It's nice to know I'm not alone on this. (I'm hoping my partner in crime will weigh in today with some actual JD-style analysis of the Voting Rights Act. I'm no lawyer, so I'll leave that for the pros.)

Anonymous said a lot of the things I was trying to tone down, in the interest of taking the rhetoric out of it briefly.

Now, RandomThoughts makes a good point that I hdn't thought of. Along with that, there's a interesting piece in last week's Flagpole by Sam Prestridge wherein he advocates that everyone should show their voter registration card before they vote. I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to that.

And finally, saving the best for last, we have more inspired GOP talking points from Buck. Here we go.
Colored dye, I don't know. I'd like to think that our democracy is a leeeetle more sophisticated than that, but what the hell do I know?
And you ask if I'd be in favor of any measure to cut down on voter fraud. My answer is, probably, but not this one. I definitely support having a paper trail from electronic voting mahcines, though that would be more voting machine fraud. As far as it goes, I highlighted three issues in my post that I think are far more serious voting fraud mechanisms than the one this law attempts to address. I probably wouldn't support trying to curtail "tickets," much as the practice pisses me off, because I can't see a way to do it without raising some serious 1st Amendment issues. But, if someone were to advance a serious proposal to deal with "street money" or the fliers I mentioned, you bet I'd listen. I'm not pro-voter fraud, I'm pro-Constitution, and there's a difference.
Also, this isn't about "expanding the franchise" (not a bad idea) as you put it. It's about _protecting_ the franchise for some folks.
Now, by implying that I somehow stand to benefit from voter fraud is beyond the pale. So back it up, Buck. And remember two points before you do. If there were a law that threatened the right of well-educated white evangelical Christians, you'd be all over that like Ben Affleck at Hooters. And so would I. The other point is this. Remember the fliers and vote suppression tactics I referenced? Those weren't going down in Alpharetta or Crystal Hills.

The thing to remember is this. The Constitution is all-or-nothing. Either you take the whole thing, or you take none of it at all. For liberals, that means that the 2nd Amendment is just as important as the 1st and 14th and all the others. And for conservatives, if you're going to harp on the 2nd, then you have to be equally dedicated to defending the other Amendments, including in this case, the 14th.

Anonymous said...

I don't know for a fact that this is true but I heard from a very reliable source that the GLOW Bus that is issuing these ID cards is accepting, as PROOF of identity, exactly the same forms of "identification" that this bill is written to deny - utility bills, paycheck stubs, etc.

How does this combat fraud? If this story is true, all that is accomplished is that voters have to prove that they are willing to be further inconvenienced and jump through another set of government hoops to ensure their voting rights.

Publius said...

"I heard from a very reliable source that the GLOW Bus that is issuing these ID cards is accepting, as PROOF of identity, exactly the same forms of "identification" that this bill is written to deny - utility bills, paycheck stubs, etc."

Almost. You have to bring a birth certificate, and proof of residency (like a power bill), but as I understand it, the birth certificate is mandatory unless you already have a picture ID.

no catsup said...

We can all agree I hope that the idea of reducing voter fraud is a good one--assuming that it does not disenfranchise legit voters. Why not quantify the different types of voter fraud and start with the problem areas first. If people voting as others is our biggest problem then lets figure out a way to prevent it, hopefully without screwing legit voters. If for example fraud in absentee voting is the biggest problem lets put our efforts into solving that problem. If you were brought in to turn around a failing business, wouldnt you go about it in the same way.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

The article in Flagpole also suggested something else that I found interesting...if we're gonna require ID's, let's require every single voter to go through the same process to get a new voting ID. Opponents would probably point out the expense and the unnecessary burden on voters...well, guess what, that kinda proves our point. At least if everybody had to it you would get rid of the equal protection problems.

Not sure if I'm qualified to do an indepth Voting Rights Act analysis..I may put something together later. On the legal front I will just say this for now: a preliminary injunction is only supposed to be issued if the judge finds that the plaintiff has a good chance of succeeding in the lawsuit. So at least one federal judge, which apparently Buck believes the plaintiffs shopped around to find, believes the plaintiffs have a case.

Jmac said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the rationale behind injunction was primarily due to the payment for an ID specifically for voter registration. Even if the poorest of poor are given free IDs - which is a good notion I think - you would still be charging others for an ID which is specifically designed for voter registration.

As a result, this is a default poll tax ... just one that taxes the more affluent who don't have something like a driver's license.

So unless you're giving these things out free left and right, and if the state government is going to take on the task of creating all of them and sending all of them out, then how is it possible to escape the poll tax problem?

I don't think anyone here is opposed to eliminating voter fraud, but like Publius pointed out, there are probably better ways to do so than limiting the ways a person can identify themselves at the booth.

Buck Laughlin said...

Due respect, I think you're naive if you think folks aren't opposed to eliminating voter fraud.

I think they think there's a constituency among the illicit electorate, and they think that for some reason it favors their side.

Whatever. Letting folks vote by showing utility bills or welfare cards or liquor store receipts or whatever else they use doesn't appear to have helped Ga Dems in recent elections; no reason to suspect it would next time, either.

Anonymous said...

Buck, I usually respect your opinions even though I rarely agree with them, but your last comment was ridiculous. Come on, liquor store receipts? That's insulting, patronizing, and borderline racist.

It's amazing to me that you simultaneously dismiss the R's political motivation for passing this bill, while accusing D's of having political motivation in opposing it. Truth is, of course both sides are politically motivated, they usually are. But your argument that D's oppose the bill because they like voter fraud, because the defrauders vote for them, has no foundation in fact. I'm sure that most D's do oppose the bill in part because those most likely to be disenfranchised by it would vote for them. There's a reason for that. R's obviously don't give a damn about them.

Publius said...

I'm voting for Anonymous.

Fishplate said...

Using liquor store receipts as a form of identification is a racist comment? Can you elaborate?

Buck Laughlin said...

Truth be told, there is no Constitutionally-protected right to vote.

And that's not me talking--it's the US Supreme Court (2000: Alexander v Mineta).

The Court ruled that the 15th Amendment does not protect a citizen's right to vote; it protects a qualified citizen's right to vote.

Therein lies the rub. I define "qualifed" as an American citizen who is of age, is not a felon, and can prove he or she is who he or she says he or she is.

Others define "qualified" as anyone who shows up at the polling place waving last month's cable TV bill as proof of citizenship.

Jmac said...

OK Buck, but you're horrifically deviating from the reality of this discussion.

The federal judge ruled that a poll tax was in effect because some folks do have to pay a fee to get a card that is solely for voter identification. Take that fee away, and the judge would probably have seen it differently.

Like I said, start passing them cards out to every single citizen in the state free of charge, and then it begins to become more of a fair thing. Right now, it doesn't appear to be all too fair.

Mandating that those who don't have a driver's license have to buy a $35 voter ID card is a blatant violation of the 24th Amendment ... something you conveniently ignored as you waxed poetic about the 2000 Supreme Court (of course, as Publius would probably agree, that court has a history of botched decisions with regard to elections and voting rights). It doesn't matter that some folks who can 'prove' they are indigent are given the card for free, others would have to pay for it.

That's a poll tax ... simple as that. You're charging people for the right to vote.

And while I can agree with you Buck that I don't like the idea of using utility bills as appropriate identification, it's absurd to ban Social Security cards, birth certificates and other government-issued forms of ID.

Buck Laughlin said...

How come people who have no problem proving they're indigent for the purposes of getting old kinds of welfare suddenly have difficulty in proving they are indigent for the purpose of getting a voting card?

I would agree with you re Social Security cards and birth certificates--when they starting putting pictures on them.

Fishplate said...

So if the card was free, would that end ~everyone's~ objections? If so, let's write our representaives and get them to make the change. Of course, to get the card, you need a birth certificate - whoops, that costs money too. As far as that goes, you can't get a utility bill for free - can you?

Was there any form of ID besides a Social Security card that did not require money changing hands? And as we all know from reading the fine print on our Social Security card, it states specifically that it is not to be used for identification purposes.

A free, universal Voter ID law, taking effect one year from the signing of the bill to give time for education about the requirements, might be the answer. Find a way to keep people from getting more than one, and the "problem" is solved.

Buck Laughlin said...

They are free! You just have to prove--ie claim--indigence, and, hell, the ID card and the whole world is yours for the asking, courtesy of your taxpaying neighbors.

Jmac said...

But they're not free Buck. Doesn't matter how many times you say they are, they're not.

If I'm a private sector employee who doesn't have a driver's license or other photo ID, but do not meet the requirements to be classifed as indigent, then I would have to pay $35 to obtain an ID to vote ... I would have to pay to vote.

It doesn't mean a thing that you can merely claim indigence and get one for free - there is a fixed price on that card which means the state is charging folks for voter identification.

And the difference between that and, say, a driver's license is that the license has a dual use. You obtain one in order to legally drive a vehicle in this state and it can be used as a form of identification. You are paying the state for the right to drive legally, not to vote.

With this Voter ID - its sole purpose is to grant you the right to vote in five-year increments. It has a specific purpose, not a dual use like the other forms of identification.

codeman38 said...

Wanna bet that, even under the revamped voter ID law, they're still going to force people to find a ride to the DMV office to get their IDs because it's still technically in the county? The cynical side of my mind wouldn't be surprised by this at all...