Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Voter ID--the American Way?

I like the story of the man who bragged, “The first hippo I ever shot had been dead three days.” Sounds like Voter ID in South Carolina. Our state Election Commission Director Marci B. Andino has said that she has never seen a case of credible in-person voter fraud.  The former SC State Elections Commissioner, Roger Leaks, Jr. went further: “I can attest that, after sitting on many Voter Appeals Boards, I have never encountered a single case of voter ID fraud, real or imaginary.” In 2009 the Supreme Court upheld a voter ID law but they went on to say: The Federal government reports that they have obtained only 26 convictions or guilty please for voter fraud between 2002 and 2005.  Looks like we’re going to have to shoot that dead hippo another time.  

Government has usually spent a great of time dealing with non-issues that most citizens would call safe. There are over 30 states besides South Carolina that have passed some kind of Voter ID restrictions. They seem to have forgotten that a huge segment of the voter population that will find it hard to vote in the coming Presidential election. Many folk wonder why this is such a problem. They assume:  Everyone has a photo ID, drives a car, has a birth certificate and a passport. Why not just drive on up to your election place, open up your billfold and let the authorities see that not-so-attractive picture. Not so.  

It is estimated that at least 11% of our population lack any kind of certification. This law affects as many as 200,000 in South Carolina. Most of these people are African-American, elderly, have low income or find themselves disabled. 8% of South Carolinians live more than ten miles from the nearest Department of Motor Vehicles office. Only 6% of the Department of Motor Vehicle centers are open on weekends.   

Voter ID in our state means that voters are required to show a Driver’s license, Passport, Military ID, a DMV issued photo or a photo ID issued by local boards of elections. Those registered voters without a photo ID can show up at the polls and can cast a provisional ballot which can be counted when they return with some acceptable proof of identity. They can receive a free ID for the purpose of voting by filling out a form and bringing it to the Department of Motor Vehicles. They also would have to bring some proof of citizenship (a birth certificate, passport, naturalization papers) or proof of social security number, and verification of South Carolinas residency. This could be anything from a report card to a utility bill.   

We need to remember that there are many registered voters in our state that cannot drive, have no bank accounts because they only use cash, own no credit cards, cannot find their birth certificate if they ever had one, certainly have no passport. Many of them work five-six days a week. They would have to use vacation time or get off work just to Drive to the Motor Vehicle’s Office and fill out papers. They could order a birth certificate for $12.00. Why should already registered voters have to jump through all these hoops? 

In 1965 this country passed a voting rights act which guaranteed every adult citizen the right to vote. We stuck down literacy tests which many states, particularly in the South, had used to deny voting privileges to African-American citizens, Hispanics and others.  This bill was to put an end to discriminatory voting practices all over the country. Some citizens gave their lives for the cause of voting privileges for everyone.

Opponents of Voter ID say that this is a way to turn back the clock and make it difficult or impossible for many people to vote. Some of these critics say that this is a way to make sure that many who voted for President Obama four years ago will not have that chance this fall.  

Advocates of Voter ID claim this is not the intention of photo ID legislation. They say they simply want to preserve the integrity of the voting booth. They also say that partisan politics has nothing to do with this effort. 

There is little proof of voter fraud in our state. When the Court reviews this photo ID law in late September perhaps we can bury the dead hippo once and for all. The issue is not if you vote for President Obama or Mr. Romney. That is your choice as a citizen. It matters terribly that all registered voters have a voice in this election.

This article appeared in The Greenville News(SC) on Sunday, September 24.

 (You might want to read a moving article about a registered voter in Pennsylvania who had no car and the difficulty she had in getting a Voter ID. www.washingtonpost.com/politics/decision 2012/for-some-pennsylvania voter id )

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