Only since 1965 have the non-white, non-wealthy and non-male been all allowed to vote and have their right to vote (i.e. the banning of poll taxes and literacy tests, among others) protected. Today, if we have one right as Americans, it is the right to vote. One person, one vote; one voice, one vote. And yet there are some Americans who meet all of the prerequisites to vote and will not be able to vote this election cycle. Why is that? Restrictive voter laws. These include laws that will make it more difficult to register to vote, laws that will close early voting earlier or the most infamous, voter identification (ID) laws – laws that require voters to bring government-issued IDs to polls. Some states mandate photo IDs.
I want to preface the following by saying that I am not trying to blame this on any one party or politician. This article hopes to serve not to condemn a party but to encourage young Americans to pay attention to this dangerous trend and not underestimate it.
Since 2011, 25 of these restrictive laws have passed and two executive actions have been enacted in 19 states (“2012: Voting Laws Roundup,” Brennan Center for Justice). Of those states, 15 have passed laws that have the potential to influence the 2012 elections.
Proponents of these laws find them necessary to prevent voter fraud. However, voter fraud is not a real problem. The overwhelming, like ridiculously overwhelming, majority of votes that are cast are 100 percent legitimate and real. Two closely monitored elections in the last decade, the gubernatorial races in Washington and Ohio in 2004, revealed that voter fraud occurs about .0009 percent of the time in Washington and .00004 percent of the time in Ohio (“Policy Brief on the Truth About ‘Voter Fraud’”, Brennan Center for Justice). When Indiana came before the Supreme Court in the case of Crawford v. Marion County, lawyers defending its photo ID law were unable to cite one single example of voter impersonation in the states’ entire history. Let me put it this way: Between 2000 and 2010, almost 650 million votes were cast in general elections, 47,000 UFO sightings were alleged, 441 Americans were killed by lightning and 13 persons were convicted of in-person voter impersonation (“UFO Sightings are More Common than Voter Fraud,” Aug. 2012, Mother Jones). Still, these laws are popping up all across the country protecting us from this imaginary threat.
The problem with these laws is that they make it difficult for many Americans to vote. Voter ID laws disproportionally affect students and young Americans, minorities, seniors, low-income voters and Americans with disabilities. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that nearly five million Americans could lose their vote this election cycle due to voter ID laws.
The issue is that for myriad reasons the aforementioned groups are less likely to have government-issued IDs or are more likely to vote early. They will now have to make adjustments for these laws that coincidentally were mostly introduced by Republicans and mostly affect liberal or moderate voters. Some low-income voters who don’t have licenses because they can’t afford cars or car insurance will have to pay for government-issued IDs. Some seniors for whom voting on Election Day is difficult will no longer have the option of voting early, and they’ll have to go to the polls on the same day as everyone else, causing crowding and longer lines at the polls. Some students who don’t have IDs with their school address on them and wish to vote in their school’s district will have to pay for new IDs. Let’s say that student is from Dallas, Texas, and goes to the University of Texas at Austin. This student might not want to go all the way to Dallas to vote, so he would re-register in Austin. However, he does not have a new ID with an Austin address. This person cannot vote. Could he use his student ID? No. Could he use his gun license? Yes.
There is very little about these laws that is, to the unassuming eye, implicitly disenfranchising. But the fact is that these laws add a burden to voters, and they disproportionally affect some voters. The restriction of early voting reminds me of regulations in the South in the 1960s that put polls in areas that were particularly dangerous and potentially harmful for African Americans. If seniors or Americans with disabilities prefer to vote early for health reasons, isn’t the restriction of dates particularly harmful and potentially dangerous for these groups? Couldn’t the case be made that voter ID laws are essentially poll taxes? If IDs cost money – which they do – and the state requires them to vote, how is the state not charging us to vote?
I could write and talk about these laws and their implicit and explicit effects all day. I will leave you with this: You can register to vote here in Massachusetts as a full-time student, and you can vote with no ID whatsoever (although, when I spoke with the Williamstown Town Clerk’s office, they recommended that you bring your student ID). But if you did need an ID, could you vote? Would you get a voice?
Carmen Linero ’16 is from Harrison, N.Y. She lives in West.