Sunday, June 17, 2012

Voter ID laws are meant to block progressive voters

I’ve talked before about proposed voter ID laws, laws demanding that certain approved forms of ID, often a photo ID, be shown at a polling place in order to be able to vote. I’ve noted that the main effect of such bills - and I maintain it is the intended effect of such bills - is to disenfranchise poor, elderly, minority, and student voters, all of who are disproportionately affected by these laws and who also, by what surely is no coincidence, are constituencies more likely to be liberal rather than conservative in their voting patterns.

These laws are, that is, intended to permanently tilt the electoral playing field in favor of the right wing.

I raise this now because Massachusetts is not immune to this crap. Republicans in the state legislature are pushing voter ID bills. One such bill was killed right around the end of May by being "referred for study" - in effect, tabling it. Even though that one was killed, you can be damn sure there will be more about it.

There are a couple of things that get me about this. First is why I called it an attempt to disenfranchise liberal-leaning voters. The GOPpers in the state legislature pushing this idiocy argued that
people cannot cash a check, rent a car, rent a DVD or even enter some government buildings without showing an ID.
That is exactly what gets argued every time and everywhere this comes up. You get exactly the same arguments, often in exactly the same words. Do not even try to tell me this is not a coordinated campaign. What’s more, these are claims carefully designed to avoid engaging in logical argument. After all, the real response should be what the hell? Since when is cashing a check or renting a DVD a basic component of a healthy democracy? Since when are they a basic function of citizenship? And weren’t we just a few years ago talking about how we could encourage more people to come out and vote? Why now are we supposed to focus instead on how many roadblocks we can put in their path?

Another thing that gets me is that right after arguing, in effect, that everyone already has ID, they’ll respond to being faced with the fact that something like 11% of potentially-eligible voters, disproportionately the elderly and minorities, don’t have such ID by ignoring their previous claims and declaring it doesn’t matter because some agency (usually the given state’s version of Massachusetts’ Registry of Motor Vehicles) will issue free IDs. Which is all well and good - except you need to be able to produce the documents to prove you are who you say you are in order to get the ID. That is, you in effect have to have ID in order to get the ID - and in some cases, such as having to prove citizenship, the paperwork can cost $200. By contrast, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, which studies topics like voter access, when the poll tax was declared unconstitutional in 1966, it was $1.50.

And here’s the real thing, the real thing that gets me and proves this has nothing to do with “protecting the integrity” of the voting process: The only kind of “voter fraud” that these laws could possibly address is voter impersonation, that is, going to the polls and pretending to be someone other than who you are. That is the only kind of fraud these laws could address and that kind of fraud is vanishingly rare. It is a solution in search of a problem.

One example: When Shrub’s DOJ launched a crackdown on fraud in 2002, five years later it had obtained only 86 convictions. That's 7/100,000 of one percent of the 122 million people who voted for president in just the 2004 elections. Even if the DOJ only caught one percent of the actual fraud, even if the actual rate of fraud was 100 times higher, that would make it 7/1000 of one percent.

Another example: Texas passed a voter ID law last year, making a picture ID necessary to vote. This came despite the fact that the 2008 and 2010 general elections, in which more than 13 million voters participated, together produced fewer than five “illegal voting” complaints of a kind affected by the new law.

Meanwhile, the Brennan Center estimates that in 2004 up to 3 million registered and fully-qualified voters were prevented from voting because of problems with our voter registration systems and up to five million people could be adversely affected by voting law changes enacted in 2011.

To top it off, we have this story: Pennsylvania recently passed one of these “prevent the ‘wrong sorts’ from voting” laws. In April, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele was touring the state to “explain” the new law. In a meeting with the editorial board of the Erie (PA) Times-News, she showed her state employee ID as an illustration - only to be told that it was not a valid form of voter ID under the law because it did not have an expiration date.

When advocates rely on fear-mongering, false comparisons, and slogans while not even understanding the laws they demand be passed - you know there is something really wrong.


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