Voter photo ID sounds like a fantastic idea, but it’s not
I used to think everyone should have to show photo ID to vote, but I now realize such proposals are basically 21st-Century descendants of poll taxes or literacy tests. They’re designed to prevent qualified voters from the most vulnerable segments of our society from voting.
Many people believe it’s a no-brainer that voters should be required to show a photo ID at the polls. They think any decent, law-abiding member of society carries a photo ID with them wherever they go. I carry one with me. I’m sure you do, too. Why shouldn’t everyone else do as we do?
To be honest, before I got involved in voting-rights work, I felt the same way, but I’ve since drastically changed my view. I now realize such proposals are basically 21st-Century descendants of poll taxes or literacy tests, concepts that I’m sure sounded perfectly reasonable in their time. We now realize these obstacles to voting were implemented purely to prevent qualified voters from the most vulnerable segments of our society from casting a ballot.
The truth is that there are many elders – maybe even your own grandparents – who no longer own a photo ID. They don’t drive anymore, so they don’t have a driver’s license. They don’t travel anymore, so they don’t have a passport. Why should these seniors, those who have contributed the most to our society, be denied the right to cast a ballot? How does denying them that right increase the integrity of our elections?
Another point is that any remotely realistic voter photo ID requirement must somehow include absentee voters. This means we would also be making our soldiers fighting overseas jump through additional bureaucratic hurdles to cast a ballot. Do I even need to point out the irony here?
Largely false claims of election-related crimes
Taking a look at the politics of these proposals is likewise important. Lobbying efforts to pass voter photo ID laws and other measures designed to suppress voting most typically crop up in swing states like New Mexico. In our state, we have a disturbing recent history regarding unsubstantiated claims of election-related crimes that are directly attached to efforts to make voting more difficult for qualified voters. Time after time those claims have turned out to largely be false.
In March of this year, while I was seated in the room, New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran told a legislative committee that she had evidence of 37 undocumented immigrants casting ballots in New Mexico elections. She made this statement while testifying in favor of a voter photo ID bill. This allegation certainly sounded shocking. She got national media coverage for the claim. My organization immediately urged her to forward her evidence to law enforcement.
We should have known better. The whole thing has since turned out to be a ruse. For months, Heath Haussamen, the owner of this website, has been asking the Secretary of State’s office to provide relevant documentation to back up these claims. In response? Layer after layer of obfuscation.
After failing to provide evidence for her statement, Duran forwarded 64,000 voter files to the Department of Public Safety for review. When this, predictably, led nowhere, she distributed a report to lawmakers filled with political attacks on county election officials and groups engaged in voter registration drives.
Grab a trowel, scrape off all the bluster, and you still won’t find any documentation to back up her fear-mongering about New Mexico elections. At this point, I think the reason why Heath and others aren’t getting the evidence they’re requesting couldn’t be more obvious.
It simply doesn’t exist.
Catching on to creative acts of deception
This example is just one of a dozen in recent years from New Mexico. Creative acts of deception have often been used to push voter photo ID measures that will have the effect of preventing many qualified seniors and U.S. soldiers as well as Native American, Hispanic, low-income, disabled and new voters from casting a ballot.
Luckily, the media finally seems to be catching on to these dishonest political tactics. I suppose they have had egg on their faces one too many times. They’ve started to note that our existing voter identification procedure in New Mexico has been quite adequate to ensure that people coming into the polls to cast a ballot are who they say they are. Pushing to go beyond that existing procedure is simply a way to rig the election in close races by denying qualified New Mexicans the right to vote.
Here’s hoping that 2012 will bring greater public awareness about how the voting process actually works in New Mexico. There are lots of things we can do to improve elections in our state, but policy decisions need to be based on facts, not on the creative advertising campaigns of partisan ax grinders.
Allen is the executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, but he will be leaving this position in January for a new job at the ACLU of New Mexico. If you’re interested in applying for his current position, you can find more information here.
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