Sunday, September 18, 2011

Papers, Please!

If you thought you just felt the earth shake, you were probably right. I have found something upon which I agree ... at least, in part ... with the Republicans.

Don't tell anyone, okay?

Here's the full story: much has been made in the news lately (see an example here) of efforts - mainly by Republicans - in many states to tighten up on voting eligibility and identification requirements. There are two ways this story is being reported, depending upon the liberal or the conservative orientation of the reporter. To liberals, these efforts represent a heinous and despicable attempt to disenfranchise otherwise eligible voters, primarily minorities, who might be expected to vote for Democratic/liberal candidates. To conservatives, it represents a desperately-needed move to eliminate what they perceive as widespread vote fraud that robs Republicans/conservatives of legitimate victories by flooding the polls with ineligible voters who vote almost exclusively for Democratic/liberal candidates, and limits voting to only those who are authorized by law to cast ballots.

As you might suspect, but as is almost never acknowledged, the truth is lost in the shouting.

I see absolutely no problem with requiring an individual to prove his or her identity when going to the polls. You need to show a valid ID to cash a check, enter a government building, board an airplane, buy alcohol, or travel outside the country. Why should you not be required to show a valid ID to ensure that one of your basic rights as a citizen is protected from abuse? Some people object that this smacks of the old World War II-era movie demand by a uniformed Gestapo agent for some hapless innocent to "show me your papers!", but this is stereotyped caricature of a useful and necessary requirement.

One criticism of some of the new voter identification requirements is that the list of acceptable ID documents is short and the process for obtaining them is too cumbersome or expensive for many citizens, especially those at lower income levels. The process of obtaining a legitimate identification document must be strict enough to prevent abuse, while simple enough that the average citizen is not discouraged - either by bureaucratic red tape or excessive cost - in attempts to obtain one. Modern, secure personal identification documents are not cheap to produce (laser engraving, embedded holograms, and implanted devices to prevent illegal alteration of the space-time continuum are expensive, after all), but neither must they be beyond the economic reach of citizens who need them. This is where state and local governments must exercise good judgment and common sense to ensure that they do not disenfranchise their own citizens ... regardless of how they view the political orientation of those citizens.

Conservatives thunder about the need to curb widespread vote fraud, but repeated studies and investigations have shown that, while such fraud does exist, it is in minuscule amounts generally unrelated to the volume of complaints. You can find a summary of studies of vote fraud at the website The Truth About Fraud, sponsored by The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

So, here's the bottom line for today: I agree with my Republican/conservative friends (and I do have some) that the voting process needs to be protected against fraud, and that there is absolutely no problem with requiring a voter to positively identify him- or herself at the polls. On the other hand, I believe that if we're going to protect our election system from fraud, we shouldn't be looking at making things more difficult for individual citizens, but at securing modern electronic, networked voting systems from illegal intrusion and subversion. The days of rounding up a bunch of drunks and illegal immigrants and busing them to polling places to vote for a particular candidate are long gone ... vote fraud on an election-stealing scale today is more likely to come from those with the skill and motivation to hack into automated voting systems and corrupt the data to their advantage.

And that's all for now. Today is going to be a busy day, as I'll be emceeing the Summer Showcase at Dance Studio Lioudmila this afternoon, so I need to finish my script notes, and make myself presentable and get ready for the big event. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Have a good day, with proper identification, of course. More thoughts tomorrow.



Mike said...

Here's a recent post of mine about a PBS program on automated voting systems.

The individual fraud is long gone as you said.

eViL pOp TaRt said...

Having some easily understood and agreed-upon I.D. seems reasonable. After all, many of us get carded if alcohol is involved. Why should voting be different from buying a chianti?

Anonymous said...

I am a poll worker every election. In California we are not allowed to ask for ID unless a person is voting provisionally. (The voter must be a resident of the county.) If the provisional voter refuses, we let them fill out a provisional ballot anyway, but of course failure to establish proper identity will null the ballot at the elections office. No provisional voter has ever refused to give ID info. Anyway, it is mostly democrat voters who are walk in voters and many of them offer their ID on principal. They do it because they believe in it. I have never encountered a regular voter who thinks it is unreasonable to show ID in the polling place - and I live in a very liberal part of California.