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I served as an election judge on November 2. It was only my second time doing so, the first being at the primary in August. I enjoy being involved in our political process, and this seemed like a logical extension of that. It's a long day (14 and a half hours, at the least), but it goes by surprisingly fast, even when turn-out in your precinct is only 22%, as it was for the primary (this was unfortunately rather high, in reality).
Turn-out would be higher on November 2 (still only 59% in my precinct), and we were warned by our head judge that there could be issues with voters wearing "ID Me" buttons or insisting that we check their ID in order to vote. Just a few days before the election, the Minnesota Supreme Court had denied a case brought by "Tea Partiers", in which they wanted the right to wear these materials. It was deemed to be covered by the "no campaign or political materials in the polling place" law, and we were to ask people to cover any such paraphernalia. This included sample ballots from specific parties and tee shirts that say "Wellstone!", even though he was clearly not running for election, both of which I asked the voters to cover or put away.
I did not see any buttons that said "ID Me," but I did have some rather forceful or snide individuals, muttering comments or stating outright nonsense regarding identification. I was only on the roster table for a few hours, so I am not sure what other judges may have heard, but I had three notable people offer their opinions. One woman was rather incensed, having "just found out today that Minnesota does not require ID to vote."
"I mean, that's ridiculous."
"It's the law," I replied.
"Well, it's a stupid law," she said.
This exchange was interesting mostly for her huffy self-importance, considering that it was only that morning when she learned about Minnesota's laws regarding voting. Hardly one to be trying to give me a civics lesson.
Another muttered, when I said that it was the law, "No wonder this state is so screwed up."
Yup, assuming that the state is screwed up, not requiring ID to vote is most certainly the reason.
The final major comment was from a gentleman who proffered his ID in my face. When I said that we do not require ID, he said he knew, but wanted me to check his ID. I said it was the law that Minnesota does not require ID to vote, and I asked his last name so I could check the roster. He remained silent and held the ID in my face. Once I had given him his ballot receipt, he said "It's the government's law that you have to have ID on you at all times. It's the law."
I closed my lips together firmly to keep from commenting. He moved on.
Now, I have to say, "Really?" Where does he live, and where is he getting this information, and moreover, why does he believe it?
Voter fraud is a current specter striking fear into the hearts of what seem to be mostly conservative, white people across America. They seem to think that liberals are stealing elections left and right, which begs the question, "Why don't they win more?"and the observation, "Wow, they are really bad at it." As this issue does divide mostly along partisan lines, with republicans generally favoring more Voter ID requirements and democrats generally being against them, I have to ask the question, "Why?"
Is voter fraud a big problem? If so, would identification laws solve it? What's the big deal about requiring ID? You need ID for a lot of things, and voting is pretty important, so requiring ID to do so seems innocuous. Why does it divide along party lines? Who benefits and who loses? Why do some people assume that everyone else is lying, even when they themselves never would? Why didn't these people get upset in 2000 or 2004 when there were massive voting irregularities? Do they believe that liberals are stealing elections through voter fraud, and ID laws will fix that? Do they think that Minnesota is the only state that does not require ID?
In reality, 24 states do not require ID, and the other 26 have varying degrees of requirements. (National Conference of State Legislatures) Furthermore, from what I could gather, voter fraud of the type that would be caught by requiring ID is so rare as to be statistically uncountable, leading Project Vote to say:
"Voter identification requirements, while increasingly popular in state legislatures around the country, are a solution without a problem."
So, if voter fraud via voter impersonation is not a real problem (Again, the kind that would be caught by requiring Voter ID), then what is this really all about?
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as much as 12% of the eligible voting population does not have a government-issued photo ID. The majority of these people are seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, students, and women. It seems to me that Voter ID hoopla is meant to instill fear in a certain sector of the population, that certain other sectors of the population are voting illegally, so that ID laws can be passed, making it harder for those certain other sectors of the voting population to vote.
If we are truly concerned about fairness in elections, then we need well-funded, well-trained election oversight departments and officials, who can track down irregularities when they occur. In Minnesota, these systems seem to be in place, though we could use more funding to train election judges. We need to pursue cases of voter intimidation or misdirection, which, unlike voter impersonation, actually do seem happen. We need to make correct information about voting and voting rights as well as election and polling information easily available to the voters.
The "Voter ID" issue is a low-hanging fear-fruit. It "sounds good" when you hear it, and people will shrug, thinking it's no big deal. That's often because they have not thought any deeper about the issue, such as barriers to obtaining government-issued ID, how those barriers affect different groups of people, and who it is that these laws would keep from voting.
It only "sounds good" when you don't have to think about it, and it doesn't affect you. I wonder if the people who snarked at me would feel differently if it was their grandmother, being denied a voice.
pubTalk: Where research meets practice. A blog produced by the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center.
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