Ensuring Every Vote Counts

courtsThe right to vote. This is the most important right granted to an American citizen. When America was founded, the only people who were allowed to vote were property-owning white men. Centuries since then, this right has been expanded to all citizens over the age of 18, regardless of race or gender. Within the past few years, Texas added a “property-owning” requirement to their resident’s right to vote. However instead of land, this property took the form of very specific types of government-issued identification.

This Texas Voter ID law was struck down by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals because it discriminated against minorities and prevented them from voting. This decision, made on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, confirmed that the requirement of certain forms of identification prevented over 600,000 citizens, mostly poor, black, and Latino, from voting at the polls. This is a significant amount of voters, and considering that black and Latino voters tend to vote Democratic, this disproportionately suppresses a large amount of Democratic supporters.

But just how much of an impact would this kind of law have on election results? The Texas Voter ID Law was passed in 2011. In the 2010 Texas Governor election, the results were 2.7 million votes for Rick Perry, the Republican incumbent, and 2.1 million votes for Bill White, the Democratic candidate. When you compare these numbers to the 2014 Texas Governor Election results, the first Governor election impacted by the strict voter ID law, the Republican candidate, Greg Abbott, received almost 2.8 million votes, and the Democratic candidate, Wendy Davis, received 1.8 million votes. While the number of Republican voters remained steady, the amount of people voting for the Democrat dropped by over 250,000 votes. This is not a trivial amount of voters. While the law may not have changed the result of the Governor’s race, it could have impacted the results of a House election, where the differences were only a few thousand votes.

The right to vote is an important right that shouldn’t be infringed upon. Bernie Sanders, a Presidential candidate, wrote how important the right to vote is, but that Right-wing organizations have been pushing legislature in several states to make it harder for minorities to register and vote. Sanders further stated that when it becomes harder for people to vote, it becomes easier for politicians (who are funded by billionaires and corporations) to win and hold elected office. This forms a vicious cycle; win an election by suppressing voters, and then using the newly elected power to further suppress voters. Without breaking this cycle, the rich would be able to control the outcome of elections by manipulating who can and cannot vote.

Even President Obama spoke out against laws which make it harder for people to vote. In an article on Medium.com, Obama expressed how today, “there are still too many barriers to the vote, and too many people trying to erect new barriers to the vote.” One such barrier is a strict photo ID requirement. He further states how “shameful as it is that laws are being designed to keep people away from the polls.” When voting is such a critical part of our democratic process, preventing people from voting sends the message that they don’t matter, and that their votes shouldn’t count. This is not the message that should be sent to American citizens.

For the voting process to work, people need to be able to vote. When people in power are suppressing America’s right to vote in order to stay in power, this violates the principle of democracy that our country is founded upon. Having specific forms of government issued identification is an arbitrary restriction thrown at voters, and impacts the most vulnerable demographic: poor minorities. Just because they are poor, and just because they are minorities doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the right to vote, and the courts rightfully determined that they were being discriminated against in Texas through the Voter ID law.

However, when it comes to Voter ID laws, people wonder what the big deal is. Why would over 600,000 Texans not have a valid government issued ID? When you need a government issued ID to drive a car, buy alcohol, or travel outside the country, it makes some wonder why wouldn’t you have one? This is a problem of perspective.

NPR did a report on why someone wouldn’t have a government issued photo ID. The most common form of photo ID is a driver’s license, but not everybody drives. In large cities, many people would use public transportation and would not need a driver’s license. Additionally, young adults in college may not need a license if they live on campus. Senior citizens who don’t drive wouldn’t have a valid driver’s license once their current one expires. These are people who don’t use government issued ID, but instead use other forms of identification to go about their daily lives; student ID, employee badges, and Medicaid cards.

A driver’s license isn’t the only form of government ID acceptable at the polls. Many states offer a non-driving state ID as well. However, the problem is obtaining one. In Texas, there are communities along the Mexican border which are over 100 miles away from the nearest Department of Public Safety. For someone who doesn’t drive, this is a giant hurdle to overcome. To put it into the perspective for Hawaii, driving around the entire island of Oahu is around 120 miles. In that distance, you would pass by five different DMV locations. When you have a state as large as Texas, distances are spread out further and simple things such as getting an ID can become an all-day affair. Some may need to rely on the good will of a friend or family member to chauffer them to the nearest DPS, wait for the ID processing, which can take hours, and then drive them back home.

For the people who think that a government ID is such a common thing that everybody needs to go about their daily lives, there is one important fact that is often overlooked; voting is a right, not a privilege. Driving, purchasing alcohol, and traveling outside the country are privileges. Because they are privileges, they require a higher standard of identification. But for something as fundamental as the right to vote, such a strict requirement should not be necessary. You do not need a photo ID to register to vote. You also don’t need a photo ID to vote via an absentee ballot. So why should a photo ID be required to vote at the polls?

Another concern of voting without proper ID is that it opens up the risk for voter fraud. Without identification, someone could walk up to the polls, give a friend or family member’s name, and vote in their place. Proponents of the Texas Voter ID law argue that government issued identification is necessary to prevent voter fraud from occurring.

A photo ID requirement is only effective at preventing individuals from impersonating other voters at the poll. There are other forms of voter fraud, such as double voting, fraudulent addresses, or vote-buying. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the term “voter fraud” is often thrown around to “artificially inflate the apparent need for these (photo ID) restrictions and undermine the urgency of other reforms.” Voter fraud is always a concern, but it rarely occurs. The Brennan Center selected a few states for a case study, and found that in the 2000 election in Missouri, there was a voter fraud rate of 0.0003%, none of which would have been resolved with photo IDs. In the 2004 New Jersey election, there was a voter fraud rate of 0.0004%, none of which would have been resolved with photo IDs. And in the 2004 Wisconsin election, there was a voter fraud rate of 0.0002%, none of which would have been resolved with photo IDs. If anything, clerical and typographical errors constitute most of what people believe is voter fraud.

Strict Voter ID laws are unnecessary and cause more harm than good. An article from the Houston Chronicle spoke about what the former political director of the Republican Party, Royal Masset, thought about voter fraud. “Among Republicans it is an ‘article of religious faith that voter fraud is causing us to lose elections,’ Masset said. He doesn’t agree with that, but does believe that requiring photo IDs could cause enough of a dropoff in legitimate Democratic voting to add 3 percent to the Republican vote.” This shows the political motivation of the Republican Party of Texas is not to prevent voter fraud, but to prevent Democrats from voting. This is an underhanded tactic used by the Republican party to prevent and discourage citizens from invoking their right to vote, just so they can win elections.

The argument for Voter ID in Texas was struck down by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals because it discriminated against minority voters. These laws are designed to target minorities, especially ones who are likely to vote Democratic, and suppress their ability to vote. Under the boogey-man of “voter fraud,” these laws are imposed on citizens. Because the vast majority of citizens have some form of government ID, and therefore are not affected, there is apathy towards those who have difficulty obtaining an ID. People say things like “well I have a license, so why can’t they get one” without considering the circumstances these people live in. Due to the apathy of the populace and the scare tactics revolving around the phrase “voter fraud,” there needs to be more awareness on the plight of the few. The Appellate Judges recognized how these minorities are impacted, and Voter ID laws need to be abolished across the country. Texas was a start, now let’s work on the other states.

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