Point — Counterpoint: Are the Stricter Voting Laws Fair to Americans?


Yes, Voting Integrity Must Be Protected


The squabbling about the voter ID laws that has gone on for weeks has left me bewildered. These laws now require some type of official ID to vote. These laws (written by Republicans) are controversial because they will likely limit voting by minorities, senior citizens, young adults, college students and the poor—all constituencies expected to largely cast their ballots for President Obama on Election Day. The GOP’s defense is that the laws are not political and are necessary to prevent voter fraud. Democrats, on the other hand, respond saying that there have been fewer than—for example, in Pennsylvania since 2004—four reported cases of voter fraud, out of four million ballots cast.

The reason I’m perplexed however is this: We’ve already had this argument, way back in 2008. Gather around children, and I’ll tell you the story of Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. It’s riveting. Trust me.

A 2005 Indiana law requires all voters casting a ballot in person to present a US or Indiana photo ID. Under the law, voters who do not have a photo ID may cast a provisional ballot, and their votes will be counted if they visit a designated government office within 10 days after the election, either bringing a photo ID then, or signing a statement saying that they cannot afford one.

This case, decided in 2008, saw the conservative wing—Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Alito  Scalia and Thomas—of the Supreme Court come together to support it.  The actual “majority opinion” however, was written by one of the leaders of the liberal wing of the court, Justice Stevens.

Obviously someone should object if a Republican-controlled legislature is passing a law that will swing the pendulum their way in an election. But why not the individuals, who are being marginalized? Where are they? I want to hear from them, not the Democratic Party—not from politicians and pundits whose political future is potentially going to suffer. That’s because if it’s the Democratic Party doing the objecting, then it’s not really about the issues of “fairness” or “equity” anymore is it? No. It’s more an issue of “We’re angry that they’re making us lose.” I want to see people—who are actually going to be denied their right to vote—protesting in the streets, rather than partisan spin doctors protesting on Channel 46 in “The Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer. Otherwise, all I’m getting is that one side is angry because the institutional goal of their party (to be elected) is in danger. It kind of undermines the whole “justice” and “equity” deal.

I don’t see those people. Perhaps it’s because the Crawford case was making a fair point when it noted that there was an equal difficulty on the other side in producing anybody who seemed categorically unable to vote as a result of the new law.

So then, let’s examine the actual issue of voter fraud. After all, that’s gotta be a pretty solid slam dunk. If there’s no voter fraud, then that’s just a fact. Right? Well that one isn’t nearly as simple to explain either. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. The whole “only x-number of reported cases” (where “x” is a small, small number) makes a good sound byte, but whenever I hear it, I always chuckle a little bit to myself. Talking about “detected cases of fraud” always strikes me like talking about “thieves who have been caught.” The problem isn’t the ones we’re catching, it’s the ones we’re not catching. As a philosophy major I’m not going to ask you to accept an argument that says “the lack of evidence is proof of a problem.” But think about the “potential for abuse” in light of the fact that the Indiana case noted that over 44 percent of the names registered on the voting rolls were duplicates, or deceased.

Like the court, I am of the opinion that you can impose burdens in response to a legitimate problem. It’s just that for me, the risk of fraud is a legitimate enough problem. Why would anybody in their right mind wait for this to “get worse” when it can be nipped in the bud now? In the event that were to happen, as the court noted, then nevermind the burden or the impact on the outcome of a close election; the impact would lead to a general loss in confidence in the institution of voting, altogether. The different ways in which Indiana’s law in 2008 or Pennsylvania’s (and any other states’) law affects different individual voters are no different than the ways that any law differently impacts any particular American. Those arguing that “people will be refused a fundamental right” have got to acknowledge that the same importance they attribute to that fundamental right swings the other way too—it’s kinda worth protecting. Just a little.

No, They Impede the Democratic Vote


If it looks like voter suppression and acts like voter suppression…do we still call it anti-voter fraud legislation? I’d say no. In recent years, and especially in the upcoming 2012 elections, legislation has continually been put in place to promote the requirement of voter identification. You need a photo ID in order to vote, otherwise you’re probably a fraud, so say supporters of the legislation.

The crux of the matter is that strict voting laws, especially voter ID laws, address a problem that doesn’t necessarily exist. Yes, voter fraud does happen. And yes, stricter voting laws, in theory, protect elections from voter fraud. Furthermore, having photo identification has its advantage. It gives a citizen immensely more freedom than a citizen who goes without.  But voter fraud does not as much as supporters of voter ID laws claim. Opponents of voter ID laws aren’t arguing that identification is a bad thing. They’re arguing that for the purpose of the law, they’re largely unnecessary and even harmful to the efficacy of the elections.

Voting has its costs to begin with that the average citizen has to take into consideration. These costs include the cost of transportation, taking time off work, finding a babysitter and being an informed voter. There isn’t much a government can do to increase the benefits of voting, so it remains the job of the government to reduce the costs as much as possible. However, voter ID laws, and other stringent voting requirements, put undue burden on a significant portion of the population. These burdens naturally force people to opt out.

A population that often has to opt out is the ten percent of Americans that lack what would be considered an acceptable ID. Those in that 10 percent tend to be of low income, elderly, urban residents—some coming from immigrant homes—that tend to vote as Democrats.

According to one study by the Brennan Center, approximately 500,000 otherwise eligible voters live more than 10 miles from the nearest voter ID distribution center and are without easy access to transportation. Race and wealth play a big role, as voter ID-issuing offices are often placed in areas that are outside the neighborhoods of minority groups and far away from poorer areas. Some are open at irregular hours. To obtain those IDs, you need documents, and for those that don’t have them, they have to cough up more money. So then, the “free” voter ID cards aren’t necessarily free.

The statistics make it obvious that these laws have partisan, rather than civic, undertones. Proponents are overwhelmingly Republican, and the laws hinder the Democratic vote in the upcoming 2012 elections. The implementation of these laws keeps otherwise eligible, responsible voters from going to the polls, and that’s what’s wrong about it.

That old axiom, “rather 100 guilty men go free than one innocent man be imprisoned” easily could be altered to describe those affected by voter ID laws. If the laws keep even one rightful voter from the polls, they are a failure, and any law that fails to honor the citizens of the United States shouldn’t be a law at all.