Much Ado About Voting
The right to vote is championed as the be-all and end-all among politicians, media personalities, and the occasional aging rock star. Every election season sees a variation of the message “I don’t care who you vote for, as long as you vote” on the airways every conceivable moment. Voting has something of a sacred status in American culture, and anything that might stifle it is instantly vilified. With another Presidential election year rearing its head, the debate over voter I.D. laws is sure to follow close behind. Be prepared to draw your battle lines over a battle that doesn’t really need to happen.
Republicans have largely lined up as the supporters of restrictions that require some form of government issued identification for anyone wishing to vote. Several states have acted on this recent wave of political support to codify these restrictions into law. Democrats have in turn lined up in opposition, claiming that these new laws are blatant attempts at suppressing minority voters. The Supreme Court has largely avoided the issue thus far, letting stand several of these laws that were implemented shortly before elections were to be held.
The history of the United States is filled with cases of both voter fraud and voter suppression. The infamous Tammany Hall political machine successfully engineered an election in which more votes were cast than there were registered voters. Irregularities have popped up from time to time in nearly every election season. On the other hand, few need be reminded of the effects of the Jim Crow South, which instituted literacy tests and poll taxes that have long since been deemed unconstitutional. It’s seemingly hard to imagine either of these scenarios popping up again, yet incentives for both parties ensure the debate will be held.
Democratic Party candidates draw significant support from low-income and minority populations that are most likely to be affected by increased restrictions. These communities are often limited by the cost of a new I.D. and potential geographical difficulties. Republicans would likely benefit from lower turnout among these voting blocs, and as such, it would seem good strategically to support restrictive identification laws. That being said, many of these new laws have provisions that would give an applicant an I.D. for free, and geographic restrictions aren’t much more of a burden than the voter going out to vote to begin with.
At the same time, investigations into voter fraud have left the Republicans little reason to suspect widespread wrongdoing. It of course could still be the case that there is massive underreporting of fraud, though unlikely by enough to sway elections in any meaningful way. In the past few years, only 31 cases of voter fraud have actually been found to be credible, and most of these issues would not be affected by the implementation of I.D. requirements. Furthermore, absentee voting, where most of the issues lie, would likely be made worse by these new requirements.
The fight over this issue is seemingly misplaced. Most of these laws place no substantial burden on voters, contrary to the claims of the Democrats. At least, this is no more a burden than requirements already supported by the left, such as: presentation of I.D. at gun purchases, police traffic stops, or the point of sale of drugs and alcohol. The Republicans of course, having little room to stand in, are more likely than not playing politics just the same, as there will likely be a drop off in voting among certain blocs.
These aren’t the questions that really need to be asked, however. Because the only burden is whether these voters find the will to go to apply for an I.D., we should ask what requirements should be asked of voters. If one has so little interest that they can’t perform this simple of a task, should they really be encouraged to vote? Or should it be the case that everyone is required in the democratic process? Instead we have the argument centered on a reversal of roles; Republicans offer government solutions in search of a problem, and Democrats cry wolf over something the general public finds uncontroversial. With the election coming, it’s time to pick your side in a battle that clearly doesn’t need to be fought.