Which Comes First: Voting or Citizenship?



800px-Voting_United_StatesThe Iowa League of Women Voters (ILWV) is so strongly opposed to voter identification (ID) that they spent their annual state meeting railing against it.  Another presentation was on civility in politics.  Unfortunately, civility was not shown.  Claims of voter suppression and racism were rampant and aggressive.

This issue marks a fundamental divide in approaching American rights.  Both groups view voting as a core right.  Supporters believe that it makes sense for one to prove that you are eligible to vote, i.e. show identification proving you are a citizen, voting where you live, and legally registered.  Those opposed argue that you should not have to prove anything – that anyone who shows up should be allowed to vote.

Both groups are firmly committed to their position.  The “No ID” position is based on memories of long discarded Jim Crow laws, addressed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Sixty years ago there was intimidation.  People were less mobile, likely to live in one place for many years, be known by local poll workers, and might not have had ID.  Absentee voting was rare.

The “Yes ID” group is firmly rooted in today’s culture.  With early and satellite voting over a month before the election, absentee voting is common.  Anyone can vote at any early voting location, irrespective of where they live.  People are mobile, and temporary poll workers – who may know none of the voters – find it difficult to determine eligibility.  Same day registration adds complexity.  Nor are poll workers confident of their legal right to question a “voter.”

Thus, illegal voting is a valid concern.  The Website “True the Vote” details that 46 of 50 states have prosecuted or convicted voter fraud cases, that there are 24 million invalid registrations, 1.8 million dead voters, and over 2.75 million people registered in multiple states.  In 19 states, there are more registered voters than there are residents.  Voter fraud cases have been documented, including in Iowa.

These cases may be due to poor record keeping and data management.  Does that make it any less important to ensure someone is legally entitled to vote?  If only one person commits murder does that make murder any less heinous?

The ’65 Voting Rights Act has worked.  The Census Bureau recently released a report showing that “for the first time…black voters turned out…at a higher rate than whites.”  More than 66 percent of eligible blacks voted in the 2012 election.  “Only 64.1 percent of whites turned out.”

Eleven states have ID requirements, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Tennessee.  African-American turnout surpassed white turnout in five states (Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, and Tennessee), showed no statistical difference in four (Kansas, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and South Dakota), and was lower in only two (Hawaii and Idaho).  All of these states have provisions and procedures allowing a voter who does not have ID to vote and for low-income citizens to get free IDs.

In 2012 polls done by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Pew Research Center showed that over 70 percent of Americans support photo ID requirements.  Simply showing a photo ID – required for library cards, liquor purchases, airplane flights and more – is not the same thing as literacy tests or poll taxes.  We must have citizenship before voting and must ensure that only citizens vote.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Arizona’s voter registration law may not be more stringent than the Federal law.  It did not rule that requiring voter ID is illegal.  Why shouldn’t we be required to prove our most important right?  I and my African-American husband are proud to do so.

Photo credit: Tom Arthur via Wikimedia Commons (CC-By-SA 3.0)

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