By Robert Schlesinger |
The new wave of photo ID laws sweeping the country will strip the right to vote from millions of eligible voters across America. Here in Minnesota it could lead to a complete restructuring of our election system, potentially removing same-day registration and absentee ballots. It's an extreme and unnecessary measure that threatens our most basic democratic practice as citizens.
We too often forget those who could be left behind if we insist upon government-issued IDs. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 10 percent of all eligible voters and 25 percent of eligible African-American voters do not have government-issued IDs. The homeless, the homebound, returning veterans, the elderly, people of color, and college students are all vulnerable to these new laws. In 2008, 2.2 million were turned away at the polls for lack of a proper ID. We have long had a system in place to identify voters at polls—through address verifications and systems of vouching. Given that we are not a country that requires its citizens to carry government-issued IDs, this is an extreme burden on the electorate. While you need an ID to carry out many daily duties of life, one does not need an ID to participate in fundamental rights—free speech, practicing religion, and voting.
There is little to no evidence of misuse of identification by voters at polls. Often described as a "solution in search of a problem," photo ID laws lift up the mythical specter of voter fraud, and in doing so, disenfranchise millions. In a country that prides itself on upholding democracy here and abroad, we must ask ourselves whether we are willing to dismantle our current system of participation and opt instead for a restrictive one that discourages and disenfranchises.
Social progress in America has been built on the expansion of participation. My grandmother witnessed a century where women gained the right to vote, and poll taxes and literacy tests were eliminated. The American story is a story of increasing inclusion—wherein all citizens shape our democracy. This is a step backwards into our darker moments in history, where only a few determined the fate of the many. In an era where Americans doubt the effectiveness of our leaders and see the heavy influence of money in politics, we cannot erode the most basic means of raising our voices—our sacred and constitutional right to vote.
About Kate Hess Pace Community Organizer with ISAIAH
Hans A. Von Spakovsky Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation
Wendy Weiser Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law