Monday, August 20, 2012

The Problem With Voter ID Laws

Last week I posted the following status message to Facebook. Pennsylvania is making it harder for minorities, students and poor people to vote, Ohio is trying to modify procedures and processes for early voting that extend hours in some counties but not others. There's nothing like a presidential election year for engineering even more divisions and greater cultural gaps, cause that's what our country needs.

Not particularly eloquent, but my comment was intended to point out that tactics that focus on voter suppression and increasing the cultural separation among constituents cause more problems than they solve. I mean really, we should be banding together to solve problems, not creating larger rifts. Instead, I inadvertently invited a barrage of comments both on my Facebook wall, on chats and via email. 

I thought it was interesting that no one commented on Ohio’s now redacted attempt to lengthen early voting hours in some counties, and reducing the available voting hours in others. But since (in response to the heavy backlash) it looks like the program will be amended to ensure equal voting hours in all Ohio counties, let’s focus on the Pennsylvania Voter ID law and the comments that were thrown my way. Some were ridiculous, for example, equivocating the right to vote with purchasing alcohol. 

But some are worth addressing, such as:

  • Voter ID laws will combat voter fraud and are therefore necessary.
  • It won’t impact that many people anyway, I don’t know why we don’t have these in every state.
  • It takes a one person just as long to wait in line at a registry office as another, this has nothing to do with race, age or gender.
  • It’s easy to get an ID. 
  • All you have to do is go to the registry office, it isn’t that hard.
  • Most states with voter ID laws make getting the voting ID free.
  • People with IDs are better off.

While I do agree with the last point, that having a government issued ID is beneficial, tying these benefits to a requirement for voting impacts a state’s population in disproportionate ways, and obtaining an ID is not that easy (especially if you don’t drive) and rules varies from state to state. 

I will address the comments after the jump and I'll focus primarily on PA, since it's the newest law and is currently under review. But first: 
  • if you're interested in reading a detailed study on the impacts and implications of exaggerating voter fraud problems and enacting restrictions on voting, this document by the Brennan Center for Justice is an excellent resource. 
  • This site is a good source for information on state requirements for voter id requirements nationwide.
  • You can find a list of voter registration deadlines by state here.
Now onto the comments!