Each presidential election day, I feel this swell of pride as I struggle to find a parking space at my voting location. I get a sense of intense patriotism standing in line to cast my ballot along with so many other citizens who want to take part in the democratic process. The throngs don’t annoy me; they inspire me. And those people who sit the whole day out on the sidelines…I’ll never understand why.
But what about those who brave the crowds only to be turned away?
Voters wait in line to cast their ballots during the U.S. presidential election in Newark, Ohio, November 6, 2012.
Every time I’ve voted, in both Texas and Virginia, I’ve been asked for my ID—a driver’s license—and of course, I’ve had it on hand. So on a superficial level, it makes sense to me that a photo ID would be required to vote. After all, I have to offer up my ID to pick up a package at the post office or volunteer to sort construction paper at my daughter’s school, so why wouldn’t I need my ID to cast a vote for president?
Like a lot of things, I’m discovering it’s simple until you dig deeper.
I’ve been reading a lot about North Carolina’s so-called Monster Law, which “cut a week of early voting, eliminated out-of-precinct voting and required voters to show specific types of photo ID — restrictions that election board data demonstrated would disproportionately affect African Americans and other minorities” (Washington Post). Part of the problem with this law was the means by which it came to fruition.
When legislative staffers requested statistics on voter turnout by race, when individuals voted (early or election day), and whether those voters have a driver’s license, things looked awfully fishy. Republican state legislators claim the voter ID law was simply political, it was obviously also racist. So racist that a federal appeals panel struck it down, referring to it as “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.” Yikes.
Voters fill in their ballots in the midterm elections at a polling place in Westminster, Colorado, November 4, 2014.
So is requiring voter IDs just a quiet way of keeping minorities from the polls, or are there reasonable justifications? After all, 77% of registered voters believe Americans should have to present a photo ID in order to vote, according to a Pew Research Poll. Plus, don’t most voting-age adults have a driver’s license anyway?
Actually, fewer and fewer adults are obtaining driver’s licenses in recent years. “Among young adults, the declines are smaller but still significant.
- 4 percent fewer 20-to-24-year-olds had licenses in 2014 than in 1983
- 11 percent fewer 25-to-29-year-olds
- 3 percent fewer 30-to-34-year-olds
- 4 percent fewer 35-to-39-year-olds.
- For people between 40 and 54, the declines were small, less than 5 percent.”
Then, there’s the issue of who has the time, resources, and bureaucratic understanding to obtain a state-approved photo ID:
“In Texas, the required IDs were held by over 95 percent of the population, but among the registered voters, ‘Hispanic and Black voters were respectively 195 percent and 305 percent more likely than their Anglo peers to lack [one of the approved voter IDs].’
“No one claimed this differential rate of registration was attributable to any form of state discrimination. Texas did not charge for the required ID, though there was evidence in the record that some individual plaintiffs had difficulty in navigating the system” (Newsweek).
No one can dispute these numbers are staggering. Back in 2014, even ultra-conservative U.S. Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner backed away from popular Republican thought on voter ID laws (which he once supported) and admitted that they are “highly correlated with a state’s having a Republican governor and Republican control of the legislature and appear to be aimed at limiting voting by minorities, particularly blacks.”
The debate over voter ID laws has been ongoing in my own state of Texas for the last few years as the state’s voter ID law has been bounced around in federal courts. Only this summer did the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit find the law to be in conflict with Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, meant to ban prerequisites to voting based on race. “Nine of the court’s 15 members…determined that the state’s voter identification law had a discriminatory effect on minority voters who sometimes lack the required forms of identification.”
I guess the real question is whether there’s a need for voter IDs—whether there’s a real problem with voter fraud. It seems there is not, at least not the type of fraud that would be hindered by requiring citizens to present a photo ID to vote in-person on election day:
“Election fraud happens. But ID laws are not aimed at the fraud you’ll actually hear about. Most current ID laws (Wisconsin is a rare exception) aren’t designed to stop fraud with absentee ballots (indeed, laws requiring ID at the polls push more people into the absentee system, where there are plenty of real dangers). Or vote buying. Or coercion. Or fake registration forms. Or voting from the wrong address. Or ballot box stuffing by officials in on the scam” (Washington Post).
In 2014, Justin Levitt, a professor at the Loyola Law School, conducted a “comprehensive investigation” of all cases of voter fraud in the US from 2000 to 2014. He was able to confirm just 31 incidents of fraud spread over more than one billion general, primary, special, and municipal elections.
So what do you think? Is it a reasonable request for voters to present an ID to vote, or is it a prohibitive, ultimately racist practice?
Photo credit: Martin Falbisoner CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons