Some states have always allowed voters to just show up, sign in and vote. But what if Republicans pushing voter ID laws had simply asked for such states to start using a voter registration card? Would there really have been much of a complaint by us self-appointed watchdogs of constitutional rights? There's no missing your voter registration card - it comes in the mail a couple of weeks after you register. For those who may have lost theirs years ago, reissuing new copies would cost a fraction of the implementation of the new laws. I don’t see why we couldn’t have gone along with that
The strict states, which may ultimately set the tone for the rest of the country if they pass the Constitutionality tests, require the kind of ID that asks you to jump through hoops to acquire. You'll need time off work, sometimes more than one day to get to more than one agency, and have to deal with transportation, fees, and that eternal catch-22 of needing documentation to get the documentation you need at various places. You may have a long wait at each stop. If you live in a rural area, are elderly or sick, care for a family member or have small children in tow, or have trouble getting access to transportation, you are going to have a tough time getting what you need before you even get to the state agency that issues photo ID’s. And if you haven't had to gather vital records for a state-issued ID since 9/11, you may not know that they have consciously added some hoops to the process in some areas. These steps must be taken – under these new laws, before you can exercise your constitutional right to vote.
What if proponents of the new laws had been able to offer ANY compelling evidence of a need for the new laws, perhaps at least making the hoop-jumping feel warranted. (They have done the opposite, demanding evidence for why we shouldn’t have these laws…)
What if they hadn't tried to convince people that there is any kind of voter fraud that can be prevented with a strictly-defined, official form of state-issued photo ID, that can't also be prevented by presenting a Medicaid card or pay stub? What if they didn’t attempt to blur the lines between different types of election fraud so that people would think that an ID card could stop a corrupt precinct captain from duplicating ballots after the polls had closed? What if they hadn't purposely confused real threats to a secure ballot, like absentee voter fraud, and corrupt election officials, with the nonexistent risk of an election being thrown by random, isolated irregularities?
Maybe there would be more trust now.
What if these zealots had forthrightly acknowledged their responsibility under federal law not to place an obstacle in the path of any voter making their way to the polls?
What if they hadn't been so gleeful about their ability to kick start this legislation in some states so quickly that if it survives legal challenges it will just happen to be in place by the 2012 elections? Or if they had at least justified this urgency with evidence of a problem needing to be solved?
What if they had allowed the horse to walk calmly ahead of the cart; addressing issues of access first. What if they had studied the impact the laws would have to ensure they were in compliance with the Voting Rights Act. What if they’d been proactive (beyond saying, “Hey, we’ll make these cards free!”) in evaluating state government systems, so that they would be in compliance BEFORE the new law. We certainly couldn’t have wondered “why the rush” if there was no rush!
What if they hadn't sent out one red herring after another:
- Well, you need ID to buy beer or rent a car!" comparing access to consumer goods and services to access to your constitutional right to vote.
- "Even homeless people have to carry ID to get benefits," calling forth a parallel hardship as though it is a justification for a similar hardship
- "What is the big deal about this? Why does it matter so much? Why are you going on about it?" To be clear, this is a group of people moving a freight train across the country, apparently hell bent on getting new voter ID laws in place in time to effect 2012 elections, asking those on the sidelines questioning the process and hoping to slow it down, why they are making such a big deal about this.
- “Come on, are there really that many people this would affect?” Research from a variety of sources averages out to an estimate that over 20 million – about 11% - of voting age Americans do not possess the official state-issued photo ID required in a rapidly growing number of states.
We probably wouldn't have batted an eye.
We jaded lefties probably wouldn't have been so suspicious about motives. We might have said, "okay, fair enough, but let's just make sure everyone hears about the new change in time to vote, and that they remember to bring their card with them, and by the way, do you need a ride to the polls?” If the voter ID supporters really felt this was an issue, they could have approached it in good faith, engendered trust, and we could all have found a way to make everyone happy.
Instead, conservative Republican office-holders, candidates, and advocacy groups have churned across the country enacting the strictest voter identification laws ever seen in this country since poll taxes and literacy tests.
If they hadn't, we might not have felt the need to respond. We might not have felt the need to rouse some folks, like the Justice Department, the ACLU, the National Democratic Party, the NAACP, the AARP, the League of Women Voters, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Progressive States Network, the Fair Elections Legal Network, Project Vote, and....
Well it turns out there are a whole bunch of people not happy about these laws. Regardless of the outcome in the courts, I hope that those who first started pushing them meant it when they said that all they want is for as many eligible voters as possible to come out and vote, fair and square; because that's what they can expect in 2012.