Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Voter ID Question

Last week, in response to my post, I received a comment that, while it didn't address my post directly, did raise a question that is increasingly common (one that, in fact, I read at least twice in letters to the editor this morning): "What reasoning precludes producing a photo ID as a measure to prevent election irregularities?" The simple measure suggested by many, would not be simple to enact for a number of reasons. I didn't address this in my post because, one, it was flamebait, and two, because rhetorical critcism does not suggest policy options, it reveals the complexities of discourse. This post is more formal, and while I won't suggest policy options, I will address the possible discursive arguments, pro and con.

I'll make two concessions:

1. Having a photo ID makes life convenient. You need one to drive, to purchase alcohol (unless you're under 30 in appearance), to cash a check, to fly, even (in some shops) to use a credit card.

2. Requiring photo ID would make it easier on voting clerks, and would eliminate a number of issues such as the one I addressed last week.

Now, on to why it will be difficult for such a measure to proceed. The first point I'll address leads into the second, and both respond, respectively, to the two concessions given above. First: although having a photo ID would make life convenient, it is not required by federal law. Nowhere in the Constitution or US Code does it state that all citizens must have a photo identification. Social Security numbers are required, but a social security card doesn't have a photo (and it would be impractical to require one: I've had the same card since I was seven. I don't look much now like I did then). Legislation has made it all but required: to live in modern America, it is infinitely easier to have a photo ID. As I stated above, you need one to drive, fly, bank, etc. However, all but required is not the same as required.

This leads to the second point: because the right to vote is constitutionally granted to all citizens (unless they commit a felony, and even then, it can usually be regained), it would all but require a constitutional amendment to make the photo ID a necessity. This may seem overblown; however, in today's litigious society, it isn't, really. The issues raised all along by minority voters against challenging tactics at polling places provide a case in point. Some (many) may not have a photo ID: I've worked in many low-rent establishments, and a number of the minority workers (most of whom were citizens) had no photo ID: they didn't use banks because they were paid in cash, they didn't drive because they'd never had the chance, some were homeless and their legal residence was a shelter.

All of these individuals were citizens and, by extension, had the right to vote, whether they had a photo ID or not. So why not simply pass a law? Two powerful complications jump to mind immediately. First, it would be extremely difficult given our concern with privacy and surveillance. Second, enacting such a law would be a process taking years - remember that old adage, that some of the most frightening words on earth are, "I'm from the federal government, and I'm here to help" - and would be inordinately expensive. Given the chance, the ACLU - and any number of young constitutional attorneys looking to make a name for themselves - would have a field day challenging any law short of an amendment in front of the Supreme Court.

It will be interesting to see how this issue unfolds.
Currently playing - Haydn, Symphony no. 81, Menuetto (3rd movement)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Today To-Do

No matter your political party, your schedule, your personal feelings: cast your vote today.