Current voter ID laws are voter suppression laws. They perverse our democracy and perpetuate failures of the existing version of our marketplace of ideas
In the past two years, more than 30 states introduced legislation or enacted laws to curb voter’s access to voting. Some battleground states, Florida and Ohio, have dramatically shortened early voting, including the weekend before Election day when many minorities vote. In addition, Florida and Texas passed legislation to make it much harder for volunteer organizations (like league of Women Voters), to register voters. Since 2011, ten states have joined Indiana and Georgia to require voters to show a specific photo ID to vote, although there is no evidence of real in-person voter fraud to justify this onerous requirement, intended to solve a problem that does not exist.
Now you might ask yourself, what is the harm here? People should have a photo ID anyway? Don’t we all have a drivers license? Well the answer is NO, it is a big deal and in effect an unconstitutional “poll tax.” (if you want to solve it have an ID issued free of charge to all citizens age 18 and up and grandfather older folks in).
Large segment of minorities, college students and older Americans do not have a driver license or any other photo ID. This is especially true with older Americans that have been voting for decades and now suddenly find themselves prevented from voting because of these absurd laws.
Take the case of Eric Kennie from Texas:
Eric was born and raised in Austin Texas, and in his 45 years has never left Austin “No Sir, not one day. I was born and raised here, only place I know is Austin.” It stands to reason that as a US citizen and a resident of the State of Texas, Eric Kennie will continue to be able to vote in every election, as he has done since his 18th birthday. He was raised to participate and understand the importance for everyone, but especially for African Americans, to do their part of what he calls “doing the right thing.” Seems like Democracy at work here, does it not?
Not so fast. Texas attorney general Greg Abbot –the Republican candidate for governor, who will benefit the most from suppressing Democratic leaning voters, has been obsessively campaigning against “voter fraud,” declaring it “an epidemic,” despite the fact that his office has only ever been able to prove two cases that could have been prevented by the passing of the Texas voter ID law, which he urged the Supreme court to uphold.
Justice Ginsberg in her dissent clearly stated “there were only two in-person voter fraud cases prosecuted to conviction in Texas,” making this a clear voter suppression legislation disproportionally targeting groups like racial minorities, low-income voters, older Americans and young voters who tend not to have a photo ID and also tend to vote Democratic.
So with the Texas onerous voter ID law temporarily in place (pending US Supreme Court review), we are back to the saga of Eric Kennie. The elections tomorrow, November 4th, are critical to determining the future and direction of Texas and the country, and Eric, with an estimated other 600,000 Texans, though registered to vote, might not not be able to.
You see, Eric Kennie does not drive and does not have a drivers license and under the new Texas voter-ID law, SB14 , will not be able to meet the new photo-identification requirement in Texas. This law offers 6 options (please note that a student ID is not on the list):
1. US passport – Eric never left Austin and has no passport.
2. US Military ID – Eric has never been in the military.
3. Drivers License – Eric does not drive.
4. License to carry a concealed handgun – Eric has no gun.
5. Citizenship Certificate – He does not have it. Who born in the US does?
Finally he was down to one last option:
6. New form of photo-Id card created under the SB14 law called election identification certificate (EIC).
To accomplish that, he had to show other forms of ID’s. He presented the Texas department of public safety his old personal ID card issued by said department. Since it expired in 2000 (more than 60 days) it was not accepted. He showed them electricity bills and cable TV bills, they said no and turned him away. As a last resort, he had to get a copy of his birth certificate at a cost of $23.
Now a reality check – Critical to understanding what this means to Eric and many others in his position:
1. Each trip to DPS involves taking three buses, a journey of a couple of hours.
2. Standing in line each time–up to three additional hours.
3. Another two hours and three buses to get back.
4. For birth certificate – another separate three-bus trek to the official records office in a different part of town.
Of course, once he got back to DPS with his birth certificate, it was not accepted since his last name on the birth certificate, his mother’s maiden name (his parents were married), did not match the name on the voter registration card, which previously to SB14 was all he needed to show in order to vote (and it was mailed to his home address). Now he cannot vote, after legally voting for decades, because of a bureaucratic mistake made by authorities 45 years ago and the new Texas voter ID law requirements.
And the financial burden. Eric recycles cans and other scrap for a living. On an average day, he makes $15 to $20. $23 dollars for the birth certificate is more than he makes in a day, and on top of that he has all the buses, which cost money, and the time he lost on all those journeys. And now he can’t vote.
Speaking on the US Supreme Court allowing the voter ID restrictions in Texas to be applied to this election cycle, Wendy Weiser, head of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice said:
“This is the first time the courts have allowed a law that actually keeps people from voting to go into effect, even though a judge found it was passed for the purpose of making it harder for minorities to vote.
Voting is the corner stone of our democracy. It gives all the people the opportunity to exercise their right to be involved in the process of “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” and have some input into their destiny, their community, state, country and nation. Eric Kennie’s story is but one of many who are being disenfranchised and prevented from voting tomorrow. It is sad and pathetic that those who can’t win on ideas, put their efforts instead into preventing those that disagree with them from voting. Democracy is based on free debate and exchange of ideas, leading to the best policies for the country and the American people. Voter suppression diminishes the market place of ideas and shortchanges our democracy and future. This effort will eventually fail, although will still “gift” us with pain and substantial waste of resources and energy, in the process.
Video: acluvideos /YouTube