Monday, September 3, 2012
Voter ID Laws Just Another Political Ploy
This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on September 3, 2012.
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
As Americans prepare to cast their ballots this November, there has been a lot of talk about voter identification laws. Some states have adopted regulations requiring every voter to show a picture ID before being allowed to participate in this most democratic and important process.
Here in Massachusetts, an effort to establish a similar law was ruled unconstitutional by the state attorney general’s office. Spearheaded by Mansfield selectman Olivier Kozlowski, the proposed law would have required all citizens to show a government-issued photo identification before being allowed to vote.
Kozlwoski said he was concerned the system here in Massachusetts is vulnerable to fraud. The local republican admitted in an interview last year that he was unaware of any actual and specific voter fraud problems in the state, but added “Every election you hear stories”.
This is a difficult issue. No one (well, almost no one) is in favor of voter fraud. It is pretty much a given that most people firmly believe only those actually eligible to vote should do so. It is a cherished right, a valued privilege, and a sacred duty. It should not be abused.
And statistics show it is not. Cases of actual voter fraud – we are talking proven cases here, not “stories” – are few and far between. The prosecution rate is extremely low, and some point to that as proof that current laws are insufficient to address the alleged issue. Others claim the voter ID law sponsors are seeking to solve a problem that does not exist in order to gain political advantage. Of course, the sponsors claim those folks are actually realizing a political advantage by gaining fraudulent votes.
And therein lays the real problem. This is about politics much more than anything else. It is about Democrats worrying they will lose votes among the more urban voters, and Republicans hoping that will be the case. It is about wanting to make sure our individual vote really counts, even at the expense of costing someone else their rightful opportunity.
At first glance, requiring a picture ID in order to vote seems very reasonable – especially here in our largely suburban setting. After all, we provide an ID for so many other things. When we buy alcohol, use our credit cards, open bank accounts, even when picking up certain cold medications in the supermarket or pharmacy. Asking for photographic identification in exchange for a ballot does not initially seem like much of a burden.
But out here, most people have driver’s licenses. They can’t rely on the subway or buses to get them everywhere. In many of our cities, that is not the case. While a good argument can be made that forcing folks to spend $25 or more to obtain a government-issued card which then allows them to vote is no big deal, the truth is it can be. It actually and actively gives people yet another reason to not vote – and that should be the last thing we do in this country.
Imagine the poor elderly woman or man in a nursing home who is denied a vote because their relatives failed to get them an ID. Or the young man or woman on their own at a tender age, who can’t cast a ballot because they don’t have the means to pay for an ID. Poll taxes and tests were used in the south generations ago to keep certain people from voting. This is nothing more than an attempt at the same thing.
We have so many real and pressing problems to address in this country, this state, and our local communities. We need to solve the tough ones, not the politically advantageous ones.
My personal belief is that depriving someone of their right to vote – accidentally or on purpose – is among the worst things you can do to them. There is no doubt fraud involved in many of our elections. However, the vast majority of it is committed by the candidates and their campaigns. We should be making things harder on them, not on voters.
When our legislatures and local officials correct the obvious campaign finance problems in this country, then we can focus on the small percentage of people who vote when they should not.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.