Since voter ID laws started popping up, the debate has run fairly predictable courses. Opponents of the law cite the lack of need (the Bush administration only found 87 cases of fraudulent voting in a multi-year investigation), and the financial burden these laws place on voters who don’t have ID. Proponents say that to function in this world, one must have a photo ID, so why not one to vote. Liberals are screaming about disenfranchisement and profiling certain types of voters. Conservatives are being myopic, refusing to see that not everyone in the world lives the way they do. No, not everyone flies. And they get downright snotty when they get around to saying that one has to have photo ID to cash a welfare check. Watching them being simultaneously snotty and ignorant is amusing.
Of course there are people who live without photo ID. They fall into three distinct catagories: 1. They either intentionally or through circumstances live off the grid, function entirely in cash, share a housing accommodation, don’t drive, don’t file taxes. 2. They are living in care, entirely dependent on others to perform those things that need doing outside their living quarters. 3. They live in cyber space, their banks are national, they use direct deposit, they pay their bills on line or use their debit card, they got their credit card through their bank or on-line. If they have had the same bank account long enough, they didn’t need an ID to open the account. Just don’t try to explain this to proponents of the laws. They just come back with “it’s easy to get ID, why shouldn’t you have it to vote?”
Some even point to Mexico and Egypt as examples of voter ID laws. The problem with that argument is the nature of the Mexican and Egyptian ID cards. They are national and in Mexico they are issued at the age of 16. They are regularly renewed with new photos, but they are the dreaded “national ID card” that conservatives reject totally.
When you get down to the voter registration requirements in some of these laws, things get really hairy. One of the plaintiffs in Pennsylvania is an elderly woman who ran headlong into the fact that her birth certificate is not the name on all her other ID. It’s her maiden name. Some of the laws require proof of citizenship to register to vote.
These are the arguments, the debates, the lawsuits we are having over the new voter ID laws. And we are arguing the wrong thing.
In 2010, there were 214 million registered voters. It is estimated that 11% do not have photo ID. That leaves 190 million registered voters who had photo ID, and had never had to prove that they were eligible to vote.
The photo ID laws are supposed to be about making sure that only those who are qualified to vote actually do vote. But everyone who is already registered and has a photo ID is being grandfathered under these laws. They don’t have to re-register and prove their citizenship.
I got my drivers license in 1965 while still in high school. I have lived in five states since then. In each state, I only had to turn in my old license to get a new one. I didn’t have to prove I’m a citizen. In each of those five states, I have registered to vote with nothing more than a utility bill. All I had to prove was residency, not citizenship. My children were registered on their 18th birthdays on nothing more than my assertion that they lived with me and were 18.
Over 180 million potentially illegal voters can go to the polls on November 6 and there is nothing the photo ID laws can do to stop it. Over 180 million voters have never had to prove they are legal citizens to register or get a drivers license. If these laws are truly about verifying that only legal citizens vote, they should have required all eligible adults re-register with proof of citizenship. Otherwise, these laws are exactly what we have claimed they are — an attempt to disenfranchise potential Democratic voters.