Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Real Problem with Voter ID

My mother, who lives in New Jersey, came to visit me in California in the early 1990’s and was distressed that she couldn’t cash her traveler’s checks. At that time, New Jersey didn’t require a photo ID and no bank or check cashing place, not even my own, would accept the checks. I had to cash them myself and have her pay me back. It was not a happy visit.
I’ve been thinking about that visit lately with all the talk in the news about voter ID, and I’ve been wondering, what do people have against a photo ID in the first place? I’ve read the arguments for and against voter fraud. It may or may not be a widespread problem-everyone has a persuasive argument for their side, complete with statistics. I would think that the very fact that voter fraud is a possibility would be enough for people. Nobody wants their vote negated by a non-citizen, or a dead person, or someone voting more than once in different places. A photo ID is not a guarantee, of course. There are no guarantees, but it is a sensible measure to ensure that the person casting the vote is actually the person registered to cast the vote.
But let’s set that to one side. Let’s say that voter fraud is not any kind of a problem. Let’s say that there are enough checks and balances in the system to prevent voter fraud. And let’s look at the core issue of a photo ID in the United States of the 21st century.  Here, in the New York Times,, I find an article about a ninety-three year old woman who had her purse snatched and who may not be able to get her ID in time to vote in November. Voting is important to this lady-so important that she is suing Pennsylvania over the voter ID laws. Her story, her courage are indeed touching, as long as the first paragraph is ignored. In that first paragraph, we read that her purse was stolen four years ago.
I cannot help but wonder why four years are not enough time to obtain a photo ID. How has this lady been managing? She has never had a driver’s license, and perhaps has direct deposit and the need to cash a check has not arisen in four years, but if she is not taking prescription medication or has not been to the doctor in four years, she is probably the only ninety-three year old in the country enjoying such a blessed state of health. I’m fifty years old and on three different medications. Whenever I go to the doctor or refill a prescription, I have to present a photo ID. When I ride the trolley and the police check my mass transit pass, I have to show a photo ID along with the pass. When I go to my own bank to cash a check, a bank I’ve been going to for years and where I am on first-name terms with the tellers, I have to show a photo ID. Last month, I had to show a photo ID to get into SeaWorld, and both the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park have asked for photo ID. I also had to present my photo ID to get a library card. Having a photo ID in this day and age should be a given, not something seen as an attempt to prevent people from voting.
Here, in the Huffington Post,, Jesse Jackson talks about marching with Martin Luther King for civil rights. He also claims that requiring a photo ID suppresses the rights of minorities to vote. I can’t help wondering how anybody can talk about those two things on the same page without seeing the disparity. The people who marched with Martin Luther King for civil rights, among the rights the right to vote, did so at the risk of their lives. They were bitten by dogs, knocked down by fire hoses, beaten, arrested, their families were threatened, and sometimes they died fighting for their rights, yet still they marched and fought. Martin Luther King organized a March on Washington that took place on August 28, 1963 and was attended by at least a quarter of a million people. I wonder what those people would say, what King would say, to the proposition that getting to the DMV to pick up a photo ID is too difficult, or that the amount of money required, perhaps twenty to thirty dollars, is too much to pay for the necessary documents to prove citizenship and the right to vote.

And I wonder what James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Shwerner would make of the current attitude to voting-that it is not important, that it is something people have to be coaxed into, and that requiring an ID and nothing more at the polls is a barrier to voting. These three young men were murdered in Mississippi on June 21, 1964, for their efforts in registering blacks to vote. They knew there had been threats and violence against civil rights workers and they knew they were walking into danger, but their commitment to equal rights for all, including the right to vote, outweighed their consideration of their personal safety. They paid for their courage with their lives, but they died knowing they were doing the right thing.

Today people all across the country are fighting over the issue of a photo ID as if there were some personal danger in getting one, or some onerous burden that cannot be met to acquire one. A photo ID is a constant requirement in all walks of life and in every strata of society. And registering to vote is no longer an act that invites the kind of violence that King protested and he and others died fighting. Nor is voting an act that is likely to bring about a person losing their job, or their home, or their life. Voting has become a chore that many people are apathetic about, to the point that requiring the same sort of ID that the library or the drugstore does is seen as a barrier. And it’s that apathy that is the true problem with the voter ID laws. It’s not that a photo ID is so difficult to get. It’s that there are people who just don’t care enough about voting to want to get one.