Voter ID horror story

Eddie Lee Holloway, a 58-year-old American citizen and registered voter living in Wisconsin, voted regularly until his state passed a voter ID law in 2011. Now he can't vote, because he doesn't have one of the acceptable IDs and can't get one. And he's just one of scads of similar cases.

You can read his full story here, but in brief, Holloway has tried repeatedly to get an ID and has run into a series of ridiculous problems, none of them his fault. The problems might be solved if he could afford to spend even more money than he already has on the various fees and on transportation costs (he's disabled and doesn't drive), but he can't. Volunteer lawyers are now suing on his behalf to try to get his right to vote restored.

Unfortunately this isn't an isolated case. In Wisconsin alone, many people were effectively disenfranchised by a bad law and many more faced long delays as a direct result of it, as Ari Berman describes in this article.

Preventing voter fraud is a worthy goal, and when I first heard about voter ID laws I thought they made obvious sense. I was wrong. They don't stop election tampering, they are election tampering.

In-person voter impersonation is the only thing voter ID laws can reduce, and given the availability of fake IDs, they might not even prevent that. But in-person voter impersonation is an incredibly silly and ineffective way to influence an election, and there's no evidence it's anything more than extremely rare. In contrast, several million Americans don't have one of the limited number of ID types allowed by their state's voter ID law. Holloway's case may be one of the more ludicrous examples, but he's far from alone.

Since members of both parties have committed various types of voter fraud (Republicans a bit more often than Democrats, in fact), laws that actually did reduce election tampering should be more or less neutral in their impact. But people without one of a required form of ID tend to be young, poor, disabled, or very elderly, groups that often lean Democratic. So the laws in practice favor Republicans, and a number of Republicans have openly admitted they expect the laws to help them.

Here are a number of previous posts on voter suppression:

  • Pennsylvania: A 2012 investigation revealed that of about 21,000 Pennsylvanians who have cast votes in every single general election for at least half a century, nearly a quarter didn't have an ID that would meet the requirements of a new voter ID law. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai bragged, "Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania -- done!"
  • Jon Stewart on voter ID laws in 2012.
  • Research by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law concluded that individual voter fraud is extremely rare and voter ID laws will interfere with the rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans, leading them to conclude that "the ability of eligible citizens without photo ID to obtain one could have a major influence on the outcome of the 2012 election."
  • A 2012 editorial in The New York Times made similar points. Another very brief post pointed to an article in the same newspaper that detailed how laws supposedly meant to address electoral fraud in fact focus on actions that suppress voting rather than those that would actually prevent the most fraud.
  • A 96-year-old African American woman who had been voting her entire adult life was denied an ID -- and effectively the right to vote -- because she couldn't produce a marriage certificate.
  • It's not just voter ID laws. Registration purges are another technique. Voters have found their registrations canceled for no valid reason (including a Persian Gulf War veteran who discovered his canceled registration when taking his son with him to the polling place to show the boy democracy in action).
  • As I noted in 2012, according to law professor Rick Hansen's excellent election law blog (at http://electionlawblog.org), before 2006 not one state required voter IDs. The fad was obviously prompted not by a surge in in-person voter impersonation -- there wasn't one -- but by a realization that such laws could be used to stop some people from voting, mainly people some politicians would rather didn't vote.
  • Another example of honesty about the motives for voter suppression: In a 2011 article for American Thinker titled "Registering the Poor to Vote is Un-American," conservative writer Matthew Vadum wrote, "It is profoundly antisocial and un-American to empower the nonproductive segments of the population to destroy the country -- which is precisely why Barack Obama zealously supports registering welfare recipients to vote."
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Voter ID horror story — 2 Comments

  1. The last time democracy was properly tried in a sophisticated society was Ancient Greece: everybody turn up in person and count heads. Once the voters don't all know one another and it gets too easy to cheat, groups of people will miss out. These will always be the disadvantaged, whether it's women whose men prevent their registration, those without money/influence to bribe corrupt officials, newcomers who don't know the system, the illiterate, those who can't afford or don't qualify for "acceptable" ID....

    These days, ID can be hard to come by when many folk go paperless to do their business. Try getting a UK bank account without a valid passport or a photo-id driving licence AND a recent paper utility bill in your name - even if you already have an account with another (or even, sometimes, the same) bank! Time was when your doctor, vicar, lawyer or local politician could vouch for you. No more.

    • There are still some places in the U.S., mainly in New England (the northeastern part of the U.S.), that practice Greek-style direct democracy, holding regular town meetings open to the entire population.

      Banks in the U.S. also typically require some form of photo ID to open an account, but a surprising number of other services can be done without one, though some of them requiring a thumbprint.

      Incidentally, an English voter would likely be astounded by an American ballot. We don't just vote for an MP or a member of the local council; we vote for a bunch of offices, often with one or two elections per year. Here's a typical local ballot (PDF) from the last presidential election. Ballots differ even within a city depending on one's address because of the way lines are drawn between multiple types of districts (i.e., constituencies).

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