By Michelle Railey
Two recent letters to the editor of the Indianapolis Star sounded familiar themes regarding voter ID that I keep hearing around dinner tables, water coolers, and seeing in the pages of the Star and on Facebook: namely, darn good thing it’s required (rampant voter fraud!) and stop complaining about it (which is weird, frankly, because if words floating around town are any indication, Hoosiers really like the whole voter ID thing, possibly more than voting itself.* The Pro-Voting-ID comments are not exactly infrequent.).
From one: “Voters should have to prove who they are before voting. Saying that having to show ID to vote disenfranchises voters is a weak argument at best. If you want to get a driver’s license, you have to get to the license branch to take the test. That is usually done by a friend or relative. If you want groceries or living supplies and can’t drive, someone must be helping you or you wouldn’t be surviving. Obtaining an ID is a one-time thing and is free. The next time someone helps you get groceries, ask them to drop by the license branch so you can get an ID…A person has to show ID to do countless everyday things, including buying prescription medicine or alcohol and cashing a check.”
And the other: “Furthermore, this mantra that the left keeps harping on that the poor and downtrodden can’t get any place to get a voter ID, that may be a fact, but how do these same unfortunates get to the polls on Election Day?”
First off, Indiana has required ID in order to vote since 2005. Yay, Pro-ID camp, you won! Like a billiondy years ago in dog years. Sure, the law’s been challenged but the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality in 2008. I think it just might stick now.
Secondly, obtaining an ID to vote is not “a one-time thing.” Any ID presented in Indiana for voting purposes must have an expiration date or have expired after the most recent General Election. So, voter-resident-citizen-Hoosier-potential fraudster and identity thief, you’re going to have to get that sucker renewed every now and again.
Thirdly, the argument regarding disenfranchisement is not solely based on transportation issues. Getting an ID is not simply a matter of getting to the license branch and asking politely. You don’t magically acquire proof of identity just by walking or hitching a ride (poor people, ammiright?) to the BMV. You have to have documentation: a passport or a birth certificate and a social security card or W-2/1099 with your SSN on it, plus utility bills or paystubs within the past 60 days showing proof of address. These types of documents can be notoriously difficult to produce for segments of the unemployed, the impoverished, the homeless, the disabled, the elderly. Of course life is easier if you have any one of these documents. Life is easier with an ID: having an ID makes having a job, cashing checks, purchasing prescription medication possible. But for some of our fellow Americans, survival is more difficult. Voting is more difficult. Everything is more difficult. But here’s the thing: having a job, cashing checks, purchasing stuff — none of these things are rights. But voting is.
It’s the weird thing about rights: theoretically, you get them by virtue of your citizenship, you get them whether you “deserve” or somehow “earn” them or not. You have rights no matter how difficult your life is, no matter how many rides to the grocery store you have to cadge, no matter if your life isn’t as together as other people think it should be. If you’re an American citizen, you have rights, even if you do or don’t have anything else. Your life is easier and better if you have the paperwork that makes full participation in American life a possibility. But even if you don’t have your birth certificate and don’t know whom to contact to get the necessary certified copy (try the Department of Health in the county where you were born), even if you don’t know where your social security card went, even if you’ve been crashing on the couches of kin and friends and so don’t have bills in your name, you still have the fundamental right to vote.
Which is why some people still talk about disenfranchising people. Putting more obstacles in the way of voting for people who already face a daily grind of repeat obstacles (to surviving, let alone getting to the polls) is de facto disenfranchisement: if voting depends on ID which depends on documents not everyone has or can easily acquire, then voting becomes dependent on having something. It becomes something you purchase through time, effort, and possession. And whatever that something is, it’s not a right.
Clearly, I understand what makes people continue talking about voter ID requirements as a harm. I’m doing it now. I talk about it because I think it’s a nearly immeasurable wrong if even one person doesn’t go to the poll to exercise one of their most basic rights as an American. I think it is unamerican to prevent people (even through inconvenience or intimidation), any person, from participating in their government. I think it is unamerican to assume someone’s guilty of committing identity theft or voter fraud before they’ve even walked through a precinct door. I think it is unamerican to exclude people from the democracy, to exclude people from their right to vote.
So I can understand why people (left or otherwise) are still “harping” on what they perceive to be a gross injustice. What I can’t understand is the semi-frequent defense of a law that is totally, one hundred percent not at risk of being repealed in Indiana. Voter ID is required. Period. I’ve heard some reasonable arguments from good people in support of the law but too often the arguments come in and they’re defending the law against, well, what, exactly? Criticism? The law is not under threat. The law is not going anywhere. So where is the need for the defensive letters to the editor, the emotional comments in the workplace about…
Oh yeah, about “those people.” The worst of the pro-voter ID chatter eventually comes down to a critique of “those people”: the “poor and downtrodden” who can (theoretically) make it to the polls but not to the BMV. “Those people” who are (it’s generally implied) secretly cashing checks (probably welfare, smirk) and buying prescription medication and doing any number of things with their ID cards until they get to a poll where they say they don’t have it or conveniently forget to bring it before they go through the line twice, one of those times as Mickey Mouse or Mayor McCheese to elect people the real voters would never select.** It’s almost beside the point that voter fraud is prosecuted when its found or that the act of voting already contains within it an attestation under penalty of perjury that one is who one says they are. It’s perhaps unnecessary to point out that if one is really super-worried about the proliferation of “rampant” voter fraud, one is free to volunteer at an election site and challenge votes, forcing “those people” to fill out provisional ballots.
Far easier to ask why “those people” can’t just get their collective act together and get an ID already. Far easier to say concerns about disenfranchisement are unfounded, “weak at best,” or “absurd.” But not as easy, or one suspects as honest, as just saying that maybe “those people” don’t deserve to vote anyway. And maybe in a 21st century America where job prospects are uncertain, mortgages are under water, retirements are difficult to fund, and a plurality feel (if they will admit it) that they’re one piece of bad fortune away from becoming “those people,” giving a full-throated defense of a law that is, after all, the law and has been since 2005 just feels good. It at least feels better than uncertainty.
And while I have some sympathy for that, it just seems a little redundant and/or silly. I mean, seriously, congration. You done it. Not to harp or anything, but there’s probably an argument out there to have about something that isn’t already a fait accompli.*** Heck, there’s probably more than one. So let’s have one of those next, shall we?
*The Indianapolis Star wrote about the low turnout in May’s primary election, which hovered in the low teens (voter turn-out in the 2014 primary wouldn’t be allowed to drive, let alone vote, in most areas of Indiana). Weirdly, the Star didn’t really mention the voter ID requirement as a potential contributing factor.
**Our second Star letter writer said voter fraud is proved as fact because states which have voter ID requirements voted for Romney/Ryan in 2012 and states without the law voted for the president.
***”Fait accompli” is a Freedom Phrase for “Got-Er-Done.” (or, in the colloquial, “Benghazi.”)
Image credit: Oh, that glorious cake! See here.