In my friend Jane’s Facebook page a extremely conservative college classmate of hers stated, in regard to voter ID laws, “Why would someone refuse to show ID unless they were going to cheat?”
Why, indeed? Maybe because…
They are an elderly person in the South who was born at home, for whom birth records are scarce to non-existent.
They are an elderly woman who can get hold of her birth certificate, but can’t produce a marriage certificate to show her legal name change.
They are a person of any age whose records were destroyed by a fire or natural disaster.
They don’t have a driver’s license, and the only DMV where they can get their voter ID is forty miles away and only open one day a month.
Their state has 9,300 polling places but only seventy-one DMV offices.
They go to the state office and the government officials keep changing what documentation they want.
They are a college student, and their state university ID is not sufficient, but the paranoid survivalist in the next apartment with the four handguns and two long guns (one of which is an AR-15) can use a concealed carry permit as ID.
These requirements affect mainly the poor and the elderly, although not exclusively. (I was born in Louisiana, and am very careful to keep my passport current, because I am concerned about the state of fifty-year old records from Jefferson Parish post-Katrina.) Race is big factor: as Judge Diana Gribbon Motz observed, the requirements in the North Carolina voter ID bill were crafted with “almost surgical precision” to affect African-American voters. (Pro-tip for state legislators: if you request racially broken-down demographic data, and plan your voting restrictions accordingly, you cannot then claim the restrictions are not race-based and have intelligent people believe you.)
One only has to look at the other provisions of these laws to know that safeguarding the sanctity of elections is not their purpose. How does eliminating Saturday voting and reducing the time for early voting make the election process more secure from fraud? It doesn’t. What about eliminating out of precinct voting? Voters voting out of precinct have to cast provisional ballots, and if anything provisionals are more closely scrutinized than regular ballots. These provisions hurt working people who can get off on a Saturday but can’t on election day, or who can vote near their workplace easier than they can by their home, or even just have moved and haven’t had an opportunity to update their registration. These laws don’t touch vote by mail, which is no more secure (and possibly less so) than ballots cast at the polls. The difference is that vote by mail is used more by older voters and white voters – voters likely to vote Republican — than minority voters.
Furthermore, even if we were to take state legislatures at their word and assume that these laws are aimed at preventing identify fraud, they are baseless. There have been fewer than one hundred confirmed cases of voter impersonation in the past ten years during which billions of votes have been cast. Unless they want to argue that people have simply not been caught (in which case, how did THEY know about it?) such laws are a massive overreaction to a virtually non-existent problem.
To claim that the only reason people don’t show ID is that they are going to cheat is naive, at the very least. It demonstrates white privilege, and class privilege, and a lack of understanding that life is different for people not so fortunate. I wish that telling people like my friend’s friend about what others go through would help them acknowledge that the voter ID laws, whatever their intention (giving her and others the benefit of the doubt), serve to disenfranchise many thousands of voters while having no real impact on the security of the election, but I doubt that’s going to happen.