HALL COLUMN: Voter ID still not a good idea

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 2, 2007

When people start talking about making our electoral process more secure, a favorite idea of the political right is Voter ID.

The Greensboro mayoral debacle is an interesting case study in voter identification.

No doubt, supporters of voter identification will point to the Supreme Court upholding a lower court’s decision overturning the election as a perfect reason why we need photo voter identification.

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However, this particular case is actually a stronger argument against voter ID than it is an argument for it.

The Greensboro case involved absentee ballots, which are used by people who are traveling on election day, may be out of town on business for an extended period of time, who are in the military and are on assignment, who are incapacitated and can’t make it to polls or for a myriad of other legitimate reasons.

Savvy politicians &045; Republicans and Democrats alike &045; know that local elections can be won or lost on the strength of their absentee ballot push. Both parties will use organizers to comb the streets to have people fill out absentee ballots. These ballots are legal and the process of doing so is part of our political process.

Given, Democrats usually benefit more from absentee ballot pushes than Republicans, but not always. For that reason, Republicans would like to see any voter identification laws extend to absentee ballots.

Such an idea is not practical. Doing so would disenfranchise those who are not abusing the absentee balloting process more than it would successfully curb those would perpetrate a fraud on the electoral system.

The least offensive case would be for a disabled or incapacitated person to have to go to the courthouse, present an approved piece of identification and then vote. Why not make them just go to the polls on election day?

The more serious offenses would arise against the military and business people traveling. How are you going to effectively enforce voter identification on a voting population that has been absent from their precinct for a long period of time?

Furthermore, justice prevailed in Greensboro. The system worked just as it is designed to work.

Suspicion of voter fraud led to a challenge of the election results. A court hearing was held and the facts were determined. The election was overturned because of fraud. An appeal took place, and the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the ruling. In the end, the rightful winner was duly elected mayor.

Sure, it took a little time for the eventual solution. But better we take our time and ensure truthfulness without disenfranchisement of anyone than to seek what some believe to be a far easier, quicker solution and risk disenfranchising hundreds or thousands of voters.

Voter identification does just that. It puts voters at risk of not being able to vote because they do not have the proper identification. That sounds innocent enough, but it is not.

First, it is nearly impossible to tie voter identification to a universal piece of identification. Drivers license? What about the elderly? What about voters who do not drive but depend on public transportation? What about those who have lost their license but not their right to vote?

A state-sponsored voter identification? Fine. What about the cost? Charging for it is effectively a poll tax that would disenfranchise (or at least provide a hardship) to the poor. And how do we ensure that everyone is issued this identification? The burden would be on the voter, which is unfair in that we are now putting a stipulation on a Constitutional right guaranteed to our citizenry.

Then there are the voter identification laws &045; such as the one Alabama passed in 2003 &045; that would include phone bills, electric bills, leases, mortgage papers and an assortment of other pieces of &8220;identification&8221;.

Those are the most absurd of the voter identification laws. They provide none of the supposed protection voter ID proponents speak of, but it at least provides them a moral victory and starting point from which they can tighten the laws.

But even these laws could cause undo hardship on some voters. A person’s right to vote is not conditional upon them owning a home, leasing an apartment, having a phone or even going to the movie store. And if the government disenfranchises even a handful of voters, they have failed at democracy.

So sure, voter identification might sound innocent enough. After all, even people with those movie rental cards had to show a piece of identification, which is an oft repeated argument for voter ID. But since when did voting get downgraded to the level of renting a bad movie from Blockbuster?

Consider just two facts:

4The American Association of People with Disabilities estimates that as many as 3 million disabled people do not have a driver’s license or state-issued voter identification card.

4The 2001 Commission on Federal Election Reform estimated that as many as 10 percent of voting-age Americans do not have a driver’s license or state-issued voter identification card.

What about these people?

Voter ID will disenfranchise many people &045; regardless of race, by the way, &045; and that is not something a free democracy should allow.

When our current checks and balances are working &045; as the case in Greensboro illustrates &045; it makes you wonder if the push for voter identification is not a political ploy to tilt the table in one party’s favor.

Sam R. Hall is editor and publisher of The Times. He can be reached at (334) 289-4017 or by e-mail to sam.hall@demopolistimes.com.