Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Why a voter ID law is a bad idea

The US Supreme Court will hear a case about an Indiana voter ID law in a month or so. Already, Secretaries of State around the country with weaker versions of this law have come out against voter ID laws.
"The reason I joined this lawsuit is that I don't want Ohio's (voter ID) law to be anymore restrictive than it already is," [Ohio Sec. of State Jennifer Brunner] said.

Joining Brunner in the filing were secretaries of state Robin Carnahan of Missouri and Deborah Markowitz of Vermont; and former secretaries of state Cathy Cox of Georgia and John Willis of Maryland.

The group argued that their cumulative professional experience has seen "virtually no evidence of polling place voter impersonation fraud, the stated reason for enactment of the Indiana law at issue here."

In the amicus brief filed Nov. 13, the group agreed with those who filed the lawsuit that the law will disenfranchise some voter groups disproportionately, including minority, female and elderly voters, the disabled, and the poor.

It will do so, they wrote, "while doing nothing to prevent polling place voter impersonation fraud."
The group I interned for in the fall wrote an amicus brief on behalf of historians to show that like the Poll tax and previous voter suppression methods in the past, voter ID laws seem to have a legitimate purpose but has a disproportionate impact on minorities and the poor.

Here's a home grown example from Utah.
In just a few minutes on Monday, John Garman was issued a Utah identification card. It may not seem like much, but for Garman it symbolizes what he hopes is the end of nearly a decade of struggling to establish citizenship.
Garman hopes it's the end of an era of living in the shadows like an undocumented immigrant, which started when as a young adult he found out he didn't qualify for a Social Security number after serving time in California for a felony burglary conviction.

When he was adopted as a child by American parents, Garman's place of birth was listed as Tijuana, but that was never verified, according to the Merced County Human Services agency. And, even though he automatically became a permanent resident when he was adopted, his conviction nullified that, making him unable to establish legal status.
A court order recently changed his place of birth from Tijuana to Livingston, Calif. And Garman hopes that will make all the difference. He used that document to get his temporary ID on Monday and is anxious for the ID card to arrive in the mail.

But while Garman is hopeful, he's not out of the woods. He used a Social Security number that was issued but later rescinded, apparently after Garman was found to be ineligible. Garman went back to the Social Security Administration last week with his new birth certificate.
In Indiana, he would not be allowed to vote. Nor would I. My driver's license has my parents address on it, not my current address. I never bothered to change the address from when I first got it when I turned 16. After all, I went to college, worked on the East Coast for two years, and then went back home for law school. When I first got back, I didn't know where I would be living and I didn't want to have to change it again after I moved out of an apartment. It costs money to change it, and time and hassle.

But Republicans in Indiana (no Democrats voted for or signed this bill) believe that that is enough reason to deny people like Garman and I the right to vote. Last time I checked, the constitution didn't require anything other than being 18 and an American citizen to vote. Shouldn't we want voting to be easier, not harder?

What are those Republicans in Indiana so afraid of? The defendants in this case offered ZERO instances of in place voter fraud in Indiana to support the purported purpose of the bill. Texas passed a similar bill in 2005, but in the past years have only 13 people were accused of voter fraud despite a whole unit of the Texas AG's office being devoted to the crime. From the brief (footnotes omitted)
Of these 13 persons, 4 were accused of having committed fraud before 2006, and the remaining 9 in 2006. (A total of 4.4 million Texans voted in the general elections for governor or U.S. Senator that year, in addition to those who voted in primaries.) To date, 6 of the 13 persons prosecuted have not yet been found guilty. Moreover, of the 7 found guilty and the 6 remaining under indictment, none of the types of fraud they have been charged with would have been prevented by the photo ID requirement advocated by Texas Republicans in the 2007 legislative session.

These data do not appear to be anomalous. A survey of the director or deputy director of all 88 Ohio boards of election in June 2005 found that a total of only 4 votes cast in the state’s general elections in 2002 and 2004 (in which over 9 million votes were cast) were judged ineligible and thus likely constituted actual voter fraud. A similar pattern nationwide has been reported.
I hope the Sumpreme Court listens to the historians and Secretaries of State. This a solution in search of a problem.

1 comment:

Jason The said...

I've read and can repeat a ga-zillion arguments against these supposed "voter fraud" resolutions, but I don't think any have been as succinct and effective as the 13 versus 4.4 million numbers you shed light on here.

Reasonably puts the ridiculous (and suspicious?) aspects of these ID pushes into perspective.