The voting rights controversy is beginning to really pick up steam as we approach the elections of 2012. Conservatives throughout the country see a need for increased election integrity, while liberals claim that proposed reforms are merely a ploy to disenfranchise voters who are likely to vote Democrat.
The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Prior to its enactment, poll taxes, and literacy tests were used extensively to prevent African Americans and other racial and language minorities from voting. The current efforts by some states to enact legislation requiring a photo ID to vote are considered an attack on the voting rights of some groups. I do not believe they are; they are justifiable under certain conditions.
Modern day efforts to suppress voter turnout, as observed by the American Civil Liberties Union include the following: photo ID’s, proof of citizenship for registration, reducing the number of days for early voting, restrictions on third party registration activities, limiting the ability of voters to change their address on Election Day, systematic purging of registered voters, challenging student voters as non-residents, unfounded voter fraud, and moving or closing voting precincts in minority communities. Clearly, some of these practices are meant to decrease voter turnout. Efforts to do this are unconstitutional and should be prohibited without exception.
The specific reform to be discussed herein pertains to the photo ID. According to the ACLU, one in four African Americans do not have a state photo ID, which includes a driver’s license. And, many seniors and low-income citizens also have no ID. Some would assert, therefore, that any attempt to require an ID is only being done to “dilute minority voting strength or obstruct the ability of minority communities to elect candidates. This would be true if a fee were to be charged for the ID" or if obtaining it would be logistically burdensome.
Opponents to photo IDs say that there is no need to require them for voting because there has been no voter fraud of note. To quote Attorney General Eric Holder, “You constantly hear about voter fraud ... but you don’t see huge amounts of voter fraud out there." Well, this comment hardly gives me comfort and is beside the point. Actually, reliable voter registration is something that our government should attempt to guarantee. Our elections must be fair and the person who receives the most qualified votes should be the winner. In fact, voter fraud is one of the most important issues when the U.S. assists new nations in establishing their electoral systems. Yet, in our own country, we do not have true voter security. Our federal government should be preventing fraud, not reacting after it occurs.
Section 5 of the Voter Rights Act requires that the federal government approve any changes in practices and procedures that relate to voting. The Department of Justice is responsible for blocking re-districting plans that create less competition or polarization racially or ideologically. This is the section of the law that Attorney General Holder referenced when he struck down several voting initiatives across the country.
In recent days, Fox News has pushed back regarding the photo ID controversy. Firstly, commentators have said that a desire to require a photo ID at the voting booth is not meant to hamper disadvantaged citizens; it is only being proposed to ensure the reliability of our election process. Skeptics may question what is in the hearts of these talking head, but I accept their assurances.
Secondly, the commentators have amassed a list of common activities that require a photo ID. They include: cashing a check, picking up medication, going to the movies, using food stamps, buying cigarettes and alcohol, renting cars, boarding an airplane, etc. If photo ID’s are necessary for these activities, why is anyone resisting a photo ID requirement for our most important civil responsibility?
Note: In fairness, opponents indicate that voting is a constitutionally guaranteed right, while these other activities are not.
The U.S. should have a better system to ensure voter integrity, and a photo ID is an ideal way to accomplish it. However, the process should be costless for everyone who needs an ID and the ID’s should create zero hardships relating to transportation or any other logistical issues.
Photo Credit: Bushchap