One of the most hotly contested areas of civic life in our country is the privilege of voting. The ability to vote is a hallmark of a free person, and is a franchise to be exercised with care, fiercely protected and defended from abuse and fraud.
Few issues excite such passion as those surrounding the vote – who should have the right to vote? Should an ID be required to vote? Should elections be mail-in ballots only, walk-in ballots only, or some combination of the two? Do we want to expand the franchise or restrict the franchise?
Between those on the Left who insist that any attempt to require an ID to vote constitutes voter suppression and the fears on the Right that failing to require an ID to vote opens the door to widespread fraud and abuse, there are few issues more important and determinate of the future of our country.
A Brief History Lesson
The practice of voting dates back to ancient Greece, which was divided into a plethora of city-states. In that time and place, all free, land-owning men had the right to vote in the “assembly” which was the government. The name given to this system of government was “democracy”, and it became one of the founding principles of Western Civilization.
Voting, in one form or another, has been part of the human experience since that time. During the middle ages, the citizens of Venice developed quite intricate methods for electing their leaders – a system that lasted twice as long as the United States has been a country – and many other western cultures developed voting systems and theories. It is one of the distinguishing characteristics of Western Civilization, and one reason for why we live in the world we do today.
In pre-Revolutionary America, the voting franchise was limited to white, landowning men. Over time, that has changed through new laws, practices, constitutional amendments, and other means to include just about everybody. The expansion and contraction of the right to vote is one of the interesting sub-themes of American history.
Shortly after the Revolutionary War, because so many landless and lower class men had fought for the new country, the property restrictions were dropped and the franchise was extended to all free men. After the Republican Party formed to abolish slavery and Republican president Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the former slaves were granted the franchise, with the 14th amendment to the Constitution being adopted to protect that right.
Republicans and women’s suffrage leaders led by Susan B. Anthony began introducing the 19th Amendment in 1878, only to be blocked by the Democratic Party until it became politically expedient for them to reverse their stance and support women’s suffrage. The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1924 and women were finally allowed to vote. The first woman elected to Congress was a Republican – Jeannette Rankin.
The 26h amendment granted 18 year olds the right to vote.
A Near-Universal Franchise
Nowhere in the Constitution of the United States is the right to vote explicitly enumerated or granted. Indeed, the only mention of voting in the original document is in Article II, Section 1 where the setup of the Electoral College is described.
In modern day America, just about everybody who is a citizen has the right to vote. Voting laws are left to the individual states, with the U.S. Constitution prohibiting the exclusion of certain demographic groups based on race (14th), previous condition of servitude (15th), sex (19th), failure to pay a poll tax (24th), or on account of age (26th).
In general, the qualifications to vote in the United States are:
- Citizenship – one must either be born in the U.S. or become a naturalized citizen. People here on guest visas, tourists, students and others here legally, in addition to the estimated 11.5 million people here in violation of our laws are not eligible to vote in elections, nor should they be.
- Age – a citizen must be 18 years of age or older to vote.
- Registration – in most states, a citizen who wishes to vote must register to do so. Registration involves verifying age, citizenship and residency to establish that a person is legally qualified to vote. Most states require a person to be registered within 30 days of an election.
Convicted felons who are incarcerated are not eligible to vote. Two states ban felons from voting for life, others have provisions for rehabilitation of felons.
Arguments Against Voter ID
The main objection to voter ID from the Left is that it supposedly discriminates against and disenfranchises minorities. Since minority groups tend to vote for Democrats, this is a valid concern of theirs.
One argument I’ve seen says that over 20 million Americans lack the kind of photo ID required by state voter ID laws to vote including 18% of “older Americans”, 18% of citizens aged 18 to 24 and 25% of African-Americans. These alarming statistics come from a survey conducted by the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice of 987 voting-age Americans. The survey further states that lower income and minority citizens – stereotypical Democratic constituencies – are less likely to possess government-issued photo identification.
The conclusions drawn by this eight-year old survey of less than a thousand people are sketchy at best since they are based on census estimates and survey results. I think they are indicative of potential problems, but lack the authority to influence public policy. In my research I kept seeing this survey’s results cited as authoritative proof of these arguments. I find it less than convincing simply because of the sample size.
The reasons for these people lacking government issued photo IDs are that they don’t otherwise need them, they never had one, or they are too hard to obtain. While 89% of the US population has a photo ID, usually a driver’s license, those who don’t drive may not have one. Many of these people will have an alternate form of ID that could be used as proof of eligibility – Medicare/Medicaid cards, Social Security cards or state-issued non-driver IDs. Voters that may never have had an ID include younger persons who don’t drive or attend school. Finally there are people who live in rural areas that are underserved by state motor vehicle offices.
I think that voter ID laws should be relaxed to the extent that other forms of proof of citizenship – such as a Medicare/Medicaid or Social Security card should be accepted as proof of eligibility to vote. For those who don’t drive or attend school, if they wish to exercise their right, they must take the necessary steps to prove that they are eligible to. That includes obtaining an ID. For people who live in rural areas that are underserved, the state governments should make it easier for such people to obtain the necessary ID.
Finally, there is an argument that some people are just too darn poor to pay for a photo ID. Solution: all government issued photo IDs should be free to all citizens. Problem solved. (Illegal aliens should still have to pay, however).
Arguments for Requiring Some Form of ID to Vote
Many activities, events, locations and businesses require a person to present an ID.
In Colorado, a valid photo ID is required for entry to a legal marijuana business.
This list alone pretty much discredits all arguments for not requiring an ID to vote. From boarding an airplane to buying a joint, an ID is required. The right to keep and bear arms is explicitly protected in the Second Amendment to the Constitution, yet our society accepts that a valid photo ID is required to exercise this fundamental right. (And in my view, it is a “superior” right, because it is explicitly discussed in the Constitution, whereas voting is not.)
Many of the things on this list are not even “rights”, such as buying a car or joining a union. Saying that requiring an ID to exercise a fundamental right – voting – that has the potential for real impacts on human life is not unreasonable.
Another argument of the Left against voter ID is that voter suppression is not a widespread problem. Finding unbiased evidence in support of this assertion is problematic. Left-leaning news sources downplay the issue of voter fraud and say it doesn’t happen (except when George W. Bush gets elected). Right-leaning news sources say it is easy and rampant. As with most other issues, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
My sense is that electoral fraud has certainly happened at various times and locations in the United States. I also don’t think that it is as much of a problem as some on the Right fear it is. In any event, just because electoral fraud may not be a systematic, widespread problem, there is no reason we shouldn’t take steps to make sure it doesn’t become a problem. From this standpoint, requiring an ID to vote is a no-brainer.
Other Countries Require an ID to Vote
From healthcare to the death penalty, those on the Left love to point out how America should be more like Europe and other countries in many respects. One area they are silent on is the requirement many other countries have for valid ID to vote. These countries all require or provide for an ID being requested by election judges:
- South Africa
Other countries require a voter to dip their finger in indelible ink, which also serves to discourage voter fraud. Indeed, during the 2012 presidential election, United Nations observers expressed surprise that Americans place so much trust into an election system that does not require a photo ID. Activists are advocating for voter ID requirements in England.
While voter ID laws vary from state to state in the US, in Colorado there are 13 valid forms of ID accepted, that should be easily obtainable by anyone who wants to vote.
Voting Is Important
Some people choose not to vote because they don’t believe their vote makes a difference. There is certainly some validity to this view in a day and age when a progressive billionaire like Tom Steyer can singlehandedly donate millions of dollars to a politician’s campaign. After the election, who will that U.S. Senator listen to – the constituents who voted him into office or the rich guy who funded his campaign?
Other people choose not to vote because they don’t feel like they know enough about the candidates or the issues to vote intelligently. Of course, some people vote based strictly on party, family tradition, influence of friends or authority figures and celebrity endorsements.
For those of us who take voting seriously, however, there are few things more important. For the Leftist who wants political power and maximum government, voting is vital. Because they believe that most of those who can’t or won’t provide an ID to vote would support the Democratic Party, they shrilly condemn voter ID laws and those who support them.
For the right-leaning person who fears widespread voter fraud (how else could Barack Obama have been elected not once but twice?) voting is equally vital. Because they believe that most of those who can’t or won’t provide an ID would vote for the leftist candidates and causes, they call for voter ID to discourage and prevent voter fraud.
The fact of the matter is that a supermajority of Americans – 70-75 percent, depending on the poll – supports the requirement of a valid ID to vote. A July 2012 poll by the Washington Post found that 74% of all respondents support voter ID, including non-white (67%), black (65%) and Hispanic (64%) voters. Other polls show similar results.
I do not condone, support or excuse voter fraud OR voter suppression or any law or practice that prevents a legally qualified person from voting; or allows a person to commit election fraud. I believe that every citizen who wishes to vote should be able to do so. I also believe that people should take the responsibility as citizens to understand the laws where they live and take the necessary steps to obtain the documents required to exercise this right.
To the extent that a young or elderly person may not have a driver’s license and can’t put their hands on their birth certificate, the law should provide for alternate forms of ID, similar to the law in Colorado.
In any event, voting is important and every vote counts. I encourage all legally qualified citizens to exercise this right on November 4, 2014.
By Richard D. Turnquist
October 11, 2014