by Jay Johansen | Aug 8, 2015
There have been a number of political battles and court cases lately over "voter ID" laws. As you may know, a number of states have passed laws requiring voters to present identification, such as a drivers license, when they vote. Many of these laws have been challenged in court. Supporters of these laws say they would help prevent people from voting twice, or prevent voting by people who are not eligible, like illegal aliens and convicted felons. Opponents say that the real goal is to make it harder for poor people and minorities to vote.
In August 2015 a federal appeals court struck down a Texas voter ID law. That law would have required a citizen to show one of seven forms of ID, including a drivers license or a special voter ID card available for free from the state. But the court ruled obtaining one of these IDs imposed costs and effort on the part of the would-be voter. Even the free ID imposed indirect costs: It required the citizen to show a birth certificate, and getting a copy of one's birth certificate in Texas costs $22. The person would have to pay the expenses of travelling to a state office to get the ID -- bus fare or gas for their car of whatever. Thus, the court ruled, this law discriminates against poor people and takes away their right to vote, which is guaranteed by the Constitution.
I was shocked to learn that my own state is considering an even tougher voter ID requirement. The proposed bill would require citizens to pay an astounding $105 fee to obtain a voter ID. They would then have to give finger prints and submit to a background check. The ID could be refused if the person has ever been convicted of a felony or have a felony charge simply "pending"; ever been committed to a mental hospital; been convicted of any of a long list of lesser crimes within the last eight years, including drunk driving, drug convictions, impersonating a police officer, and indecent exposure; or if the person has not been a resident of the state for at least six months. They then have to take a class from a state-approved instructor on the responsibilities of voting. The class typically costs another $100 or so.
Okay, that last paragraph isn't true. Those aren't requirements to exercise your Constitutional right to vote. Those are requirements to exercise your Constitutional right to carry a gun.
But what's the difference? If it's outrageous for a state to ask someone to drive all the way to the motor vehicle bureau and show a birth certificate in order to get a voter ID, because voting is a Constitutional right and expecting someone to spend any time or money at all to be allowed to exercise this right is an attack on the Constitution, then by exactly the same reasoning, isn't it outrageous to demand that someone pay several hundred dollars and meet a long list of requirements to be allowed to exercise their Constitutional right to keep and bear arms? Yes, if a criminal or an irresponsible person gets a gun, he could hurt a lot of people. But if a traitor or an irresponsible person votes, he could harm the entire country. If a law that might require someone to pay $22 to vote is rightly suspected of being a sham to stop poor black people from voting for cadidates who would protect their rights and interests, then by the exact same reasoning, shouldn't we suspect that a law that requires someone to pay over $200 to carry a gun is really a sham to prevent poor black people from being able to defend themselves from hate crimes?
Some states, such as California, Maryland, and New Jersey, even have laws saying that you have to present a reason why you need to carry a gun, and some government official will then review your application and decide whether this reason is sufficient for you to be allowed to exercise a right that the Constitution explicitly guarantees. Can you imagine what would happen if a state passed a law saying that you have to explain to a government official why you should be allowed to vote, and that official would then decide whether or not your reasons for wanting to vote are good enough?
© 2015 by Jay Johansen