NO VOTE FOR YOU: A PRIMER
“What’s the big deal with showing your ID when you go to vote? Won’t it keep down voter fraud?”
This is the question most people ask when they first learn of the opposition to laws requiring that people who wish to vote present photographic identification at the polls. The big deal is disenfranchisement. A person who has the right to vote is precluded from doing so. How does this happen? Let me explain:
Elections are won by garnering the most votes. This is true for almost every election except that of the Presidency, there is an entire process above the popular vote called the Electoral College which I won’t explain here. That is for another chat beside another fire. One way to garner the most votes is by simply getting more people to cast their vote in your favor, the other way to garner the most votes is to preclude citizens who are likely to vote for your opponent from exercising their right to vote at all. This is why voter identification (Voter ID) laws are a vital tool in elections. Minority voters are less likely to possess the state issued photographic identification. In many cases those who were previously able to exercise their right to vote will no longer be able to vote. In the 2008 election, a whopping 96 percent of African-American voters cast their vote for Barack Obama.
The argument most often used in favor of voter ID laws is that the requirement of photographic identification prevents voter fraud, particularly impersonation fraud. If voter impersonation fraud were prevalent in the United States, this argument would be somewhat valid; however, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law states (pdf):
“It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”
Essentially, voter impersonation fraud is rare unless there is a sudden and drastic uptick in the frequency of sky to human lightening strikes.
The Voting Right Act of 1965 (VRA) was passed for the purpose of protecting minority voters, particularly in the South, from poll taxes and literacy test. Previously such devices were used to keep minority voters from exercising their rights granted by the 15th amendment. The passage of the VRA protected those minority voters and the United States saw a wave of new voter registrations by minorities, particularly African-American voters.
Section 5 of the VRA is particularly important in the protection of minority voting rights. Section 5 requires that a certain group of states and counties that have a history of voter disenfranchisement submit any changes to their voting procedure to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for “preclearance.” The changes must be cleared by the Department of Justice before any changes can be made. South Carolina, a state with a history of minority voter disenfranchisement is covered under Section 5.
Recently, Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, head of the Civil Rights Division at the DOJ, sent a letter to the Attorney General for the state of South Carolina. In the letter, Perez indicated that parts of South Carolina’s proposed voter ID law did not meet the burden set forth in Section 5. According to Perez, “the voting change at issue must be measured against the benchmark practice to determine whether it would lead to a retrogression in the position of racial minorities in their effective exercise of the electoral franchise.” This means the new law is weighed against the current law to determine if implementation would lessen the ability of racial minorities who have the ability to vote currently from exercising their rights under the new voting law. Perez noted, according to the statistics provided by the state of South Carolina, an incredible 81,938 registered minority voters in the state of South Carolina lack a photographic ID and would be rendered ineligible to vote under the new law. This is disenfranchisement.
The next statement is usually, “the state could give all 81,938 of those people a free identification card.” While in theory this would work, in practice it is completely ridiculous. Here’s why:
- People who do not have a state issued photographic identification card also do not possess a driver’s license.
- Those who do not possess a driver’s license are less likely to own a vehicle.
- Those who do not own a vehicle must obtain transportation to and from a state approved identification center.
- Transportation costs money.
- In rural areas, access to transportation for those who do not own a vehicle may not be readily available and the distance can be upwards of 20 miles to a state approved identification center. A round trip in some instances of 40 miles.
The notion that a state approved identification requirement is arguably a poll tax becomes compelling. The money required to obtain an approved voter ID becomes the tax. If a voter cannot afford the cost of transportation to obtain valid identification they have lost their ability to vote. Basically, if you are poor and do not have state approved identification: NO VOTE FOR YOU!