Columns, Opinion

RYAN: Can I See Some ID, Sir?


Voting is a fundamental right. Read that sentence again; it’s important to remember. For the weekly readers (Hi Grandma!), you know that I’ve already explained why you should vote this November. Today is about the thousands of voters who don’t have a choice; they won’t be allowed to cast ballots come Election Day.

Early Saturday morning, the Supreme Court upheld Texas’ law requiring all voters to have some form of current government-issued photo identification. According to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s dissent, this law will affect some 600,000 registered Texas voters without proper identification. With fewer than three weeks until Midterm Elections, most of the voters will be unable to obtain proper identification in time.

This law is one of many in recent years to require stricter identification for voting. The so-called Voter ID laws are in place in 31 states, according to the National Center of State Legislators, a bipartisan states’ rights advocacy group.

Based on the NCSL’s definitions, 10 states have strict Voter ID laws in place, while the rest have non-strict. Generally, whether a law is considered “strict” depends on what steps a voter without valid ID has to take. If the voter has to come back at a later time in order for his or her vote to be counted, the NCSL considers the law strict.

State legislatures passed these laws for a variety of reasons. The most common reason is to avoid potential voter fraud. In states without identification laws, voters simply have to sign a register after giving their names and addresses. It doesn’t take a criminal mastermind to figure out how easy it would be to vote as someone else.

Another factor is to maintain the credibility of our elections, which is actually a valid concern. According to a study by Columbia Law School (aren’t my Ivy League sources impressive?) in 2007, 26 percent of those surveyed believed that voter fraud is “very common.” If people distrust the election process, elected officials will have a lot less credibility with their constituents. However, the same study found that voters in states with strict ID laws were no less concerned than those without any ID laws at all.

While there are plenty of reasons for politicians to advocate for Voter ID laws, none of them can justify preventing even one person from voting. Texas’ law will affect at least 4.5 percent of the state’s registered voters. That can completely change the outcome of an election.

Even though a noticeable portion of Americans believe that voter fraud is “very common,” it couldn’t be further from the truth. Since these Voter ID laws have risen to prominence, some journalists have taken a closer look at cases of voter fraud. Since 2000, the number of potential cases ranges from 31 to more than 600. To put that range in perspective, more than one billion ballots have been cast on the municipal, state and federal levels in that same time period.

On the surface, these identification laws might seem like good intentions gone wrong; beneath the surface, there might be ulterior motives. Voter ID laws usually cost voters time and money. Most often those without the proper identification are economically disadvantaged. They work multiple jobs to make ends meet. When do they have time to get to a state office to register for IDs? In Ginsberg’s dissent, she noted that more than 400,000 Texans live at least one-and-a-half hours away from their nearest state office.

Lower-income voters will also have to pay for proper identification. While $40 might not seem like much, for the financially strained, it can make all the difference. Once again, in her dissent (which you all should read because it’s fantastic and she’s fantastic), Ginsberg compares the law to a poll tax – a fee to vote.

These taxes were made unconstitutional by the 24th Amendment, and Ginsberg has a point. If a person needs a new birth certificate issued or pays for a state identification card, that is an unavoidable cost to the voter. At the very least, they have to go to a state office when they could be at work. For those 600,000 Texans without proper ID, they are literally paying to vote.

I know that voting isn’t cool or sexy. You have to register weeks in advance and then go out of your way to cast your ballot. There are long lines and angry old women yelling at you to follow directions. The list of candidates goes on forever, and a lot of people are running for positions you’ve never heard of.

With all that in mind, it’s a fundamental right. If people want to participate in their government, we should make that as easy for them as possible. There are too many apathetic people in this world; let’s not add to the list.

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