According to an article on MSNBC.com, a legal challenge to Texas’ voter ID law will go to court this September. I want to make a couple disclaimers before getting to the meat, so to speak, of my post. I do not believe that everyone who supports voter ID laws is a racist or is trying to keep blacks and Hispanics from casting ballots. Some supporters of voter ID laws are legitimately concerned about stopping voter fraud. An example would be Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who has demonstrated a strong commitment to racial justice throughout his career, even when it did not benefit him politically. I also believe that voter fraud does happen, although it seems to be rare. I feel the need to make these disclaimers, because it seems like so often, people on opposite sides of this issue yell past each other rather than having a constructive discussion.
As I have alluded to in previous blog posts, I oppose voter ID laws, and I have opposed them for the last eight or nine years. The first reason I oppose them relates to the fact that, for better or for worse, government exercises authority over all of us. If we get a jury summons, we have to show up. If we accumulate a certain amount of wealth, we are taxed. And so on and so forth. And unless I am very much mistaken, government is here to stay. It can and should be made much smaller than it currently is, but it is not going away completely. What does this have to do with voter ID laws? Well, because the government has authority over every citizen, every citizen should have the opportunity to vote for the people who will serve in government. (I should clarify that I do not believe in the right of the public to make laws, and I believe that no bad law need be followed, even if it was enacted according to some form of the “democratic process.”) Indeed, in today’s society, voting is correctly treated as an inalienable right for adult citizens, a right only forfeited by criminal actions. This is why analogies about the fact that people need IDs to, say, rent a movie, do not hold up. Renting a movie is not an inalienable right. The burden of proof ought to be on the government to disqualify anyone from voting. The government must prove that a person is engaging in voter fraud. Voter ID laws err by placing the burden of proof on the voter.
Another reason I have for opposing voter ID laws is their disproportionate impact on minority voters. Any policy that is enacted with the goal of preventing people of a certain race from voting obviously ought to be vehemently opposed. But given the history of racial discrimination and disenfranchisement in this country, it is also imperative that we try to avoid policies that have even an unintentional impact disproportionately on voters of a certain race. In order to continue to move closer toward a more racially egalitarian society, it is important to have a multitude of voters of all races. I would also state that while, as I mentioned earlier, some supporters of voter ID laws are well meaning and non-racist, others are certainly racist and working to disenfranchise minority voters. Not long ago, Mississippi had a governor named Haley Barbour who venerated Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy and had documented ties with the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens. Barbour was also in support of voter ID laws, and I do not think I am being overly judgmental to conclude that he had nefarious motivations. A somewhat similar case exists in my native state of Georgia. Back when he was making an unfortunately successful attempt to get elected, our current Governor Nathan Deal was championing our state’s voter ID law and let his true feelings be known. “We got all the complaints of the ghetto grandmothers who didn’t have birth certificates and all that,” Deal said, derisively. While in office, he has promoted “Confederate History Month” and called an attempt from a liberal organization to gain his endorsement for a racially integrated prom (frighteningly, segregation of high school proms is still an issue in the South) a “silly publicity stunt.” Again, Deal’s motives don’t look so good. The country has made a great deal of progress when it comes to achieving universal suffrage and breaking down racial barriers to voting. But voter ID laws are a step in the wrong direction, and they must be repealed.