The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The Nineteenth Amendment reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
I don’t think that could be any plainer. Provided you are of a certain age (a reasonable restriction laid out by the 26th Amendment), your right to vote is inviolate. Yet across the country, Republicans are passing laws that disenfranchise people who are likely to vote for Democrats, including minorities and the elderly. They claim it’s to prevent voter fraud. However, the Brennan School for Justice at NYU School of Law hosts The Truth about Fraud, which shows that the problem of voter fraud is wildly overstated. The report by Justin Levitt reads, “Aside from a trickle of news stories of low-grade fraud in a few isolated elections, there are surprisingly few sources recounting specific incidents of alleged voter fraud.” Republicans pass voter ID requirements under the guise of preventing impersonation of other voters, an occurrence that Levitt says is “more rare than getting struck by lightning.” He sums up the issue quite well:
The voter fraud phantom drives policy that disenfranchises actual legitimate voters, without a corresponding benefit. Virtuous public policy should stand on more reliable supports.
He also says we need to distinguish between problems that arise from faulty ballots and genuine human error, and problems of people intentionally committing fraud.
One of the most recent states to pass voting restriction is Wisconsin. The new law would require photo ID at the polls; residence at your address for 28 days before an election (up from 10 days previously); and reduce absentee voting in clerks’ offices from 30 days before an election to 14 days, among other things. At a time when Gov. Scott Walker is all about cutting the budget by gutting unions, he’s supporting spending $7 million over the next two years to implement the bill. The Republicans are confident the law is constitutional because the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a similar Indiana law in 2008. But even Indiana’s elections official admitted it had weak justification:
Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita has conceded the state has never presented a case of “voter impersonation,” which the law was designed to safeguard against. The 2005 Indiana law requires that a valid photo identification be presented by a person casting a ballot at a polling stations. Previously, most citizens needed only to sign a poll book to vote.
Republicans can pull whatever tricks they want to get people to vote for them. That’s fair game, although another Supreme Court decision I disagree with is Citizens United. But I think it’s despicable they would prevent people from exercising their constitutional right. The United States was founded partly because of outrage about “taxation without representation.” Colonists were angry at England for dictating laws they had no say in (Tea Act, Stamp Act, Townshend Acts). They wanted to be able to choose their decision-makers. In this country, your vote is your voice, and often the only way to make your preferences known. If you don’t like the way your representatives vote, you can vote them out of office. Recalls are going on right now in Wisconsin for Republican state senators who supported gutting unions. On Tuesday, Democrat Kathy Hochul won a special election in a historically Republican congressional district, and pundits are saying it’s because of fear of Medicare reform.
Republicans want to deny that right to people who are already ignored and marginalized. They want to end Medicare as we know it, but they don’t want senior citizens without a state ID to be able to oppose them. They want to cut welfare for poor single mothers, but they don’t want those women to be able to express their anger by voting for Democratic opponents.
Call me naive, but I think the government should be increasing voter access, not decreasing it. Early voting and extended hours are good ideas. We already have a shameful voter-turnout rate (around 62 percent in the 2008 general election). We don’t need it to decrease any more.