21 June 2011

Fraud vs. Suppression: the battle over the vote

As if receiving their guidelines from party headquarters, two liberal columnists in as many days -- Cynthia Tucker and E. J. Dionne -- have published denunciations of bills currently under consideration in or recently approved by state legislatures requiring citizens to show photo I.D. cards as proof of their right to vote at a given polling place. In the United States, partisanship appears to determine perceptions of such legislation. Republicans regard them as necessary for the prevention of fraudulent voting. Democrats see them as efforts to suppress voter turnout. It should be self-evident that each position is based on circumstance rather than principle. For whatever reason, Democrats have many supporters who lack photo I.D. or would find acquiring it burdensome. Precisely because Democrats openly acknowledge that their party would suffer from such laws, Republicans push more aggressively for their enactment. But while the motivation of Republican legislators may be transparently partisan, they are probably more capable of defending their stance with a semblance of objectivity than Democrats are. That's because the Democrats, regardless of what you think of their policies and positions, really have no stronger argument against photo I.D. requirements than that they'd hurt Democratic chances at the polls specifically. By contrast, Republicans can argue objectively for the prevention of voter fraud -- and the Democratic protest that such fraud is rare or, in Dionne's words, "not a major problem," is no answer to the principle of the thing. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court's position, established in a 2008 test of an Indiana law, is that requiring photo I.D. is not unduly burdensome as long as the I.D. card can be had for free. Charging for it would make the requirement tantamount to an unconstitutional poll tax. Against the claim that merely requiring people to get the I.D. is unduly burdensome, the Court ruled that such personal costs in time must be weighed against the benefit to all from ensuring fair elections.

While I don't doubt that Republicans pursue such legislation specifically to hurt the Democratic party, and some of their vote-suppression tactics may prove more vulnerable to constitutional scrutiny or redress. I'm just reluctant to see the special needs of the Democratic party enshrined in constitutional law. That is, I wouldn't want a photo-I.D. law struck down on the ground that it hurts the Democratic party, or any party, specifically. Instead, Republicans should shoulder the burden of impartiality by making sure that photo I.D. cards can be acquired as easily as possible, not just by lifelong residents of a state but by newcomers as well. If there's a limit to their willingness to facilitate I.D. acquisition, that's when you can accuse them of vote suppression. But the conditions of acquiring required I.D. are a subject separate from the requirement itself. There really ought to be zero-tolerance of voter fraud, and the presumption of it should not be treated like a slander. Both major parties have indulged in unethical voter-turnout manipulation throughout their history, from sending repeat voters from district to district to bribing the undecided on Election Day. Neither party is entitled to a presumption of innocence on any question influencing voter turnout, and neither is entitled to special consideration by the law or the courts. The two-party system itself, a construct of the nation's collective consciousness, arguably contributes as much to vote suppression by demoralizing citizens as any questionably-motivated legislation. When are we going to see E. J. Dionne or Cynthia Tucker protest against that?

7 comments:

Crhymethinc said...

The problem being that many of those living in poverty do not have photo ids and, laws being what they are, without proper identification (birth certificates, etc.) photo ids are very difficult to obtain legally. That being said, it is probably easier for such people to obtain a photo id illegally, such makes the whole notion of requiring a photo id to fight voter fraud of questionable value to begin with.

Samuel Wilson said...

Ideally, acquiring photo ID should not impose hardships on anyone. If the purpose is to establish residency in a specific city, a person ought to be able to get it with copies of bills, etc., that establish his address. If the point in question is birth or naturalization, cards should be issued at birth or upon naturalization and should be accepted whenever a person moves from state to state. If government was to eliminate the hardship factor in acquiring photo ID, and in spite of your reservations about the ease of counterfeiting, would you then agree with a photo ID requirement?

Crhymethinc said...

If every citizen were legally obliged to possess a National ID that included photo, fingerprint and a magnetic strip with genetic coding, I'd have no problem with it. However, I'm pretty sure the right-wing dirtclods who insist on photo ids would rage against such an idea, callling it "Orwellian".

Crhymethinc said...

It also occurs to me that if these dirtclods insist on a Constitutional amendment requiring photo ids to vote, then part of that amendment should also eliminate individual state laws regarding national elections.

Crhymethinc said...

Right now, as far as I am aware, the only photo id considered "valid" is a driver's license, which is not free and must be renewed, at cost, every few years. It also requires one to take and pass a permit test, a 6-hour driver safety course and a driver's test (which requires one to have access to an automobile for practice purposes).

I know there used to be a "sheriff's id" or "county id" which had a photo, but I do not believe they are in use at this time. I'm not sure if one could simply present, say a photo id from one's job and have it accepted (since again, these would be very easy to counterfeit).

Samuel Wilson said...

As far as I know, none of the advocates of photo IDs are pushing for a Constitutional amendment, since the requirements currently are up to individual states. In the old days, the remedy for fraudulent voting was for each party to have poll watchers in every district who actually knew their neighborhoods and could challenge strangers based on personal experience or lack thereof. Since partisans cried fraud virtually all the time back then, the remedy was imperfect -- or else it was convenient, then as now, for partisans to say so. The ultimate question, given your points about counterfeiting, is whether fraud is ultimately irrepressible.

Crhymethinc said...

Fraud is ultimately irrepressible because politicians seek power, this is why they join political parties, because as individuals they have no chance at winning. Since winning is more important to them than integrity, there will always be the temptation to cheat - that is part of human nature. Especially in a country like ours where such a heavy emphasis is placed on competition, rather than cooperation, and where the "winner takes all" in a political sense.

As long as we have a large segment of population who are unreasoning dirtclods, who respond more to rhetoric and sound bytes than to logic and debate, our political scene will continue to be polluted by dishonest politicians and the dishonest people who support them.