Sometimes, I really despair over liberal legal minds. In most of the states that have passed new voter ID laws, Democrats, liberals and civil rights activists are taking the states to court over the disenfranchisement of voters. They are arguing the constitutionality of the laws and claiming that the laws discriminate against minorities and the poor. It’s the wrong track.
These laws weren’t written by idiot state legislatures. They were written by the conservative legal geniuses in ALEC. They made damned sure that these laws would pass a constitutional challenge on the matter of racial, ethnic or income discrimination. However, they did not consider the poll tax argument.
Poll taxes were ruled unconstitutional. We cannot impose a cost on voting, because such a cost is an impediment to the free exercise of our constitutional rights. To get around that, the states that imposed these laws grandly announced that they would waive the cost of a non-drivers license photo ID. How sweet. Wouldn’t it be nice if that were the only cost. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley even said she would personally drive people to get their voter ID. Hasn’t done it, but at least she offered.
If someone doesn’t have a drivers license, it’s a fair bet they don’t have a car and don’t drive, right? That means they would have to arrange transportation to the nearest DMV office to get that photo ID. Some people, obviously, could get a ride from a friend or relative. Others, however, would need to use public transportation or pay someone (a taxi?) for a ride. What if, as in Texas, the majority of people without drivers licenses live over 10 miles from the nearest DMV office, and half of those live over 20 miles? What are the chances that there are local busses that travel in the right direction. So, taking a bus from town to town means taking Greyhound, right? That’s a cost being imposed to vote.
In many of these photo ID states, one now needs proof of citizenship in order to register. In Florida, even those who have voted for decades are being required to provide proof of citizenship. No state has waived the cost of a certified birth certificate. And no state has offered free services to help people find out where to acquire their birth certificates. No state has offered an alternative birth certificate based on, say, school records or census records for those whose births were not recorded back in the days when there was no legal requirement to record a birth. States might accept a Catholic baptismal certificate the way they do in Catholic countries, or the documentation of a bris for a Jewish boy, but most Protestants don’t get baptized immediately after birth. What can they use as an alternative to a birth certificate. Few Americans were born in hospitals before World War II, so this is an issue that can effect the majority of our senior citizens.
What about the housebound or those living in nursing homes or care facilities? What accommodations are these states making for those who cannot leave their homes to acquire the necessary documents that they are supposed to submit with their absentee ballots? Will the disabled be denied the right to vote? Pennsylvania’s law says that persons submitting an absentee ballot must “affirm” their citizenship. Guess what? That means swearing out an affidavit in the presence of a notary. Notaries charge for their services and charge more for house calls. Another cost being imposed to vote.
Then, there’s the case of Pennsylvania and the student ID. A student ID is accepted only if it has an expiration date, and the law’s defenders say that all the colleges have to do is put a sticker on the student IDs. Who is paying for all those stickers, tens of thousands of them. Just the University of Pennsylvania has 21,000 students.
To acquire a photo ID, people might have to take time off from work, causing them to lose a day’s pay. DMVs, especially in Wisconsin, have notoriously limited operating hours. This is another cost to vote.
The opponents of these laws can just sue over the costs, or they can get creative. They can sue to force the states to create cost-free access to the means of acquiring a photo ID. Start by demanding mobile ID units, similar to bookmobiles. These should contain at least two photo ID machines like the ones used in modernized DMV offices, the ones that make your license while you wait. Wonder how much those puppies cost? Then, the state would have to analyze the population, identify places where there is no public transportation (fees for busses and subways would need to be waived until after the election) and/or no public transportation that goes within, say, 500 yards of a DMV office. Then sue for reimbursement of lost wages or the costs of a babysitter, unless you want your DMV offices overrun with bored, hungry, screaming kids. Sue to have all states waive the fee for birth certificates and mail out to every household in America a guide to the proper addresses to send for those birth certificates. Sue to have notary fees paid by the state for those “affirmations” of citizenship. Sue to have all states provide alternatives to birth certificates for those who were born at home.
Sue to have military service records accepted as proof of citizenship. My uncles were born in the Caribbean, one in Puerto Rico, the other in the Dominican Republic. No one asked for their proof of citizenship when they enlisted. They were brought here as children before 1921, when the law stated you could apply for naturalization after five years residency. But the Army and Navy didn’t give a rat’s behind where anyone was born back then. So, for all those World War II and Korean War veterans, just take their military records as proof instead of telling them they can’t vote after having voted for over sixty years.
Even though we know that these laws are aimed at the poor and minorities, aimed at college students, aimed at traditionally Democratic voting bases, that cannot be proven in court. Even though Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai told a Republican State Committee meeting “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, DONE,” we cannot prove that is the intent of these laws. Even though these laws were drafted by ALEC and sent to state legislators, we cannot prove they target specific voting blocs. But, we can prove they impose costs that are equivalent to poll taxes, and those are illegal.
Democrats and minority activists need to stop whining and figure out that this is not a fight that will be won in a traditional manner. The enemy is too well funded and has bought itself too many really good lawyers to be stopped with accusations of discrimination. They must be stopped creatively, with attacks on the unconstitutional burden of costs to vote.
There is one funny side to this. The same conservatives who are demanding photo ID on a state by state basis are the ones who oppose a national ID card.