Election Day and voter ID laws

Opinion by Aimee Trujillo
Nov. 3, 2014, 9:25 p.m.

Today is a day of electoral accountability. It is a day where, for all United States citizens over the age of 18, it’s time to take advantage of exactly what makes democracies so admired. It’s time to send a message directly to the government about everything that we are pleased, disenchanted, angry, appreciative, impassioned and exasperated with. It’s time to fully capitalize on the struggles of the generations that came before us to establish universal suffrage.

It’s finally midterm Election Day.

During the remaining 729 days of this period, it seems that we have no dearth of things to complain about. However, in an astounding showing of hypocrisy, hundreds of thousands of eligible voters fail to do so, with consistently less than 50 percent of the voting population turning out for midterm elections for the past century.

This tragedy of apathy would be a terrible depiction of the passions and values of the American population if the blame rested entirely on those that do not vote. However, this would be a presumptuous and ignorant accusation to make against American electorate. Yes, it is true that many people make the explicit choice to abstain from voting, but for thousands more people, it is not a choice, but a sad reality of the country we live in today.

For so many eligible voters who are not actually able to vote when Election Day comes around, only the state governments are to blame because of the backwards voter identification laws that are in place. This comes as a result of the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder on June 25, 2013, that struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act that once prohibited voter identification laws. Texas is just one of 34 states that now requires a strict form of identification at the polls in order to cast a ballot.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the majority opinion that nearly 50 years after huge racial disparities in voter registration and turnout, “things have changed dramatically.” The sad truth of matter is that things really have not changed that much. In fact, Justice Ginsburg’s prediction in her dissenting opinion is proving to be reality — voter ID laws, especially Texas’ SB14, are stopping people from voting. Nearly 600,000 registered voters in Texas will be unable to vote in this election because they cannot meet the photo-identification requirements.

If that is not disturbing enough, a study by political scientists Barreto, Nuñez, and Sanchez found that these sorts of laws disproportionately affect immigrant and minority voters, who are less likely to be able to provide multiple forms of identification. There is a socioeconomic bias associated with having a driver’s license — those with higher incomes and educations are more likely to have one — and both minorities and immigrants have much lower rates of access to checking and credit bank accounts for identification purposes. These differences all come back to the systemic barriers that prevent lower-income people and minorities from having access to the same opportunities as others.

Well, so what? Many argue, “If you are actually a citizen, what do you have to fear about showing your ID?” Countless others argue that voter identification laws are crucial for combating voter fraud at the polls.

First off, the reality is that voter fraud is not nearly as rampant as the conservative media would suggest. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice reports that these allegations simply do not pan out because voter impersonation is virtually nonexistent to the extent that it is “more rare than getting struck by lightning.”

Additionally, it is actually many citizens who are registered to vote that are getting turned away for lack of identification more so than those attempting voter fraud. For example, in Texas, concealed handgun licenses are an acceptable form of identification, but state schools’ student IDs are not, which means that some students without in-state driver’s licenses will not even be able to vote. Others who do not drive or do not have military IDs can obtain a special form of ID known as an election identification certificate (EIC), but only after jumping through all sorts of bureaucratic hurdles and proving their identification in several other methods such as bank statements, school records or immunization records. This effectually creates a road full of barriers to proving one’s identity that not only disincentivize voting, but also unjustifiably affect lower-income voters who do not have the time or resources to surpass all these obstacles.

Universal suffrage encompasses having both the right to vote and the opportunity to do so. While thankfully all adult citizens still have the right to vote in the United States, there are incredibly unequal opportunities to vote between racial and socioeconomic groups because of the restrictive voter ID laws. So much so that it is now questionable as to whether America can still claim to have “universal” suffrage. It is American citizens’ civic duty to vote, but it is the government’s moral duty to abolish these restrictive ID laws as the Voting Rights Act intended. Only then can we truly have a representative democracy.

Contact Aimee Trujillo at aimeet ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Voter fraud is one of the most insidious issues that can face a democratic republic like ours. Casting multiple ballots for one person or casting one as someone else flies directly in the face of democracy itself. And after seeing terrible cases of voter fraud in recent elections (including the election of Senator Al Franken in Minnesota in 2008 and True the Vote’s discoveries of systemic fraud in Houston in 2010), many states implemented laws requiring voters to show official photo identification before voting.

The four most rigorous of the first laws (in Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, and my home state of Tennessee) took effect for the 2012 general elections. As of now, 17 states have enacted voter ID laws, and importantly, 10 of those are Southern states, as defined by the Census Bureau.

It’s become a part of the left’s standard rhetoric since then that voter ID laws are the new versions of poll taxes — to the point that under-informed voters accept that notion as gospel truth. Progressives seem to think that those of us with minority identities (racial, socioeconomic, etc.) cannot understand the importance of having identification or that people who have changed their names (e.g. due to marriage) will neglect to update their voter registration information. Additionally, they think that Southerners just want to keep people with minority identities from voting.

Thinking rationally (instead of prejudicially), those assumptions are patently false. If people fail to obtain an ID or keep their information updated, that’s their own fault — independent of race, class, or marital status. But that fault isn’t permanent; there is nothing about not having an ID due to inaction that prevents someone from obtaining one—not even cost, since 22 states charge less than $10 for IDs, and all but three charge less than $25. As such, no inherent reason exists why a photo ID requirement would prevent specific groups of people from voting.

Beyond that, the simple fact of the matter is that the South in 2014 is incredibly different from the South in 1964. Though prejudice does still exist in Dixie (as it does everywhere in this country), the idea of disenfranchisement en masse no longer holds sway.

Instead, the prejudice in this debate comes from those arguing against voter ID laws. As noted above, some of that prejudice appears when leftists assume that people from minority backgrounds will be too lazy to either get an ID or vote if they need to show one. Of course, history has shown those assumptions to be the bigoted falsehoods they are.

In Texas, for instance — a state whose voter ID law has received an extreme amount of criticism — the implementation of its voter ID law didn’t yield any evidence of voter suppression. In their 2013 constitutional elections (the first subject to the law), 8 percent of registered voters actually voted, compared to 5 percent in 2011; since those off-year elections began in 1981, average turnout has been 12.31 percent with a standard deviation of 6.65 percent. The more crucial statistic from that election comes from the Latino/a communities: statewide turnout for Latino/a people increased, with some predominantly Latino/a districts showing an increase of 300 percent from 2011. If lawmakers had intended to suppress voters using voter ID laws, they are, as CNN’s Bryan Preston puts it, “failing as spectacularly as HealthCare.gov.”

But beyond racial prejudice, it seems that, more than anything, prejudice against the South guides the opposition response to voter ID laws.

Levels of anti-South sentiment, conscious or otherwise, are startling. A study conducted here in 2010 showed that a speaker’s Southern accent caused listeners to view them as innately less intelligent. Other studies have shown that many consider prejudice and discrimination against Southerners (and specifically rednecks) more appropriate than either based on race. Just look at how people on the left responded to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — with disbelief that Southern states could be trusted not to target voters from minority backgrounds. In seeing Section 4 of that law (rightfully) declared unconstitutional, those critics immediately assumed that Southern states would start bringing Jim Crow back from the dead. And when many Stanford students talk about race, the racism of Southerners comes as an unquestioned fact.

Unfortunately, since people already assumed that new voting laws from the South would be prejudiced, that pall fell over the voter ID law debate almost instantly. Since a majority of states with voter ID laws are Southern (and a majority of Southern states now have such laws), left-wingers feel comfortable in prejudging those common sense reforms as racist. The only evidence they need that the connection exists is that Southerners and Southern states want voter ID laws.

More unfortunately, by fixating so thoroughly on voter ID laws, progressives ignore actual issues with our election laws, like how valiant soldiers are systematically being disenfranchised.

So this election day, keep all this in mind when you hear people being ignorant about the South, people with minority identities, and about voter ID laws. After all, the entire debate rests on a different kind of bigotry.

Contact Johnathan Bowes at jbowes ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Aimee Trujillo (‘15) is a political columnist and a current senior majoring in Political Science with a minor in Spanish. Originally from San Diego, Aimee is currently pursuing her interests in research and law. Her passions in life include immigrant rights, running, reading, photography, cats, and hummus.

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