Two hot-button issues in New Mexico are related to one core question: What precision is necessary for the state government to “know” the identities of people? We must address the “certainty” question before exploring “how to” issues such as: with a photo. The precision necessary could range from allowing the government to take a person’s word as to their identity or might require a much more rigorous approach.
The two areas of contention in New Mexico where political advantages mute identity certainty are voting and driving. In all other areas New Mexico has no trouble imposing adequate requirements for identity.
When I was in college in the late 1960s a guy showed up at the Methodist Student Center where I spent my time. “The name is Arnold Ziffel, and don’t make fun of it,” he said it with a stern look. At the time a television comedy, Green Acres, featured Mr. Ziffel, who had a pig named Arnold. Behind our Arnold’s back we laughed at his name.
That next week I was in a large class when the roll was being taken. I realized that the new guy, Arnold, was also in the class. I smirked to myself that when “Arnold Ziffel,” was called we would all snicker. Instead Arnold Ziffel answered to the name Robert Spiers. After class he laughed and said he loved that joke.
The possibility of concealment
Currently in New Mexico, Robert could walk up, declare a name and vote with no other check to his true identity, if the name he said happened to be on the rolls. Likewise, people who are not U.S. citizens can easily get New Mexico driver’s licenses that other states would not issue. They can then take the New Mexico licenses to other states and trade them in for much-harder-to-get licenses.
In no other endeavor are people able to conceal their true identities and intentions with the exception perhaps of the dating scene. Consider that in the coffee shops where I spend my time it is not uncommon to not know someone’s name at the table. Their identity is not necessary to sit and tell stories over coffee.
Being on talk radio three hours a day, five days a week, I am comfortable with my anonymous status most of the other time I am in public. In the late 1980s I lived in California for a couple of years. It was interesting how, when celebrities wanted to be noticed, they had strategies to get noticed. Otherwise, they were just one more person in line. As I lived in Ventura, all but the most recognizable stars fit right in.
Most people just want to go about their day without hassles. Border patrol stations 100 miles inside the United States in New Mexico, along with DWI, seatbelt, insurance and valid license checkpoints, are a hassle. Still, as a society, we must balance our privacy issues with the need of the society to maintain order.
Do we citizens of New Mexico have to carry our identifying documents with us at all times? While driving, of course, but when just walking down a street must we carry identification? It is a problem for law enforcement when citizens do not carry documents. “Sorry officer, not carrying any documents.” That probably gets the citizen “detained.”
Certainty is critical
Government in New Mexico must be clear as to the certainty of identification required in each situation, including if we must always have identification with us. That is the core issue our leaders must solve first. Any dialog about photo ID is wasted without understanding the certainty requirements for identification.
We need to know what certainty of identification will be applied when we vote or get a driver’s license. State leaders must arbitrate the degree of certainty before they talk about how to apply the standard.
I am Michael Swickard. However, there are two Michael Swickards in my town. The other is a very distant cousin who researches chile. Is it is important to know which one of us wrote this column? No, but the certainty of identify is critical when it’s about who is voting and driving, especially since his name is the same as mine.
Swickard is co-host of the radio talk show News New Mexico, which airs from 6 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday on a number of New Mexico radio stations and through streaming. His e-mail address is email@example.com.