Tuesday, April 29th, saw the latest step in the dance between Republican legislatures and the Constitution as a judge ruled that Wisconsin’s voter ID law was unconstitutional. This means that the Badger State joins such states as Pennsylvania and Arkansas (just a few days before) in having their hand slapped for reaching too far in the fight against non-existent voter impersonation fraud.
Yes, I said non-existent. And I meant it. It is statistically more likely for a specific individual to be struck by lightning than it is to have them cast a fraudulent vote. The people over at the Brennan Center for Justice have a lovely study that you can check out for the breakdown. Now, I know some people will say, “But there’s still a chance! You said it’s non-existent!” To which I reply… Really? THIS is the nit you want to pick? Puh-lease.
So, on the one hand, we have GOP-dominated legislatures and governor’s offices fighting tooth and nail to get these identification laws in place before the 2014 elections. In the case of Arkansas, they’re so hot and bothered about it that they overrode a gubernatorial veto to get it going, only to be smacked in the gob by the court. They have to do it now, because the last time this sort of initiative was tried, it ran afoul of laws against changing election rules right before a vote… but they were in a hurry because OMG THE BLACK GUY MIGHT WIN AGAIN. These laws are supposedly intended to stop an event that happens so rarely, lottery grand-prize winners outnumber the number of transgressors.
On the other hand, we have the people who will be disenfranchised by these initiatives, and the franchise itself which is SUPPOSED to be an integral part of our citizenship. Now, that franchise is limited and curtailed in some cases; some states don’t let felons vote, for example, and I can see that. If you break the law in a substantive way, then you give up some of your rights in society. I’d prefer that there be a way to get the franchise back, especially considering the sometimes-incompetent-and-slapdash way our justice system can function, but considering that we as a society can’t seem to get the whole “paid my debt to society” idea through our collective heads, I’m not holding my breath. (Rant for another time.) However, that begs the question: what crime have the substantial swath (somewhere around 10% of the registered electorate) of voters who won’t be able to vote under these laws committed? The crime of being born rurally? The heinous deed of having incompetent clerks misspell their name on a form? The criminal deviance to have lost the needed documents to fire, flood, or theft? The dastardly deed of going to college outside their home state? Those evil masterminds!
Ten percent versus a fraction of a fraction of a percent… which of these has more weight? To hear Republicans tell it, that miniscule teensy number is the end of our system’s legitimacy, while the lost franchise of that ten percent is a small price to pay. Funny how they didn’t feel this was a problem in 2004, 2000, 1988, 1984, 1980… It seems they felt the system worked fine, that the American public could be trusted with the system already in place. Any idea why they might have felt that way?
Voter ID is not about controlling fraud; never has been, never will be. It’s about shutting out people who generally vote Democratic, making it harder for them to vote, and making sure that the GOP maintains control of the states they have. Texas’ version is especially blatant in that respect, disallowing college IDs for trending-liberal young people but allowing gun registrations for the conservative gun-owner set. I guess gaming the system takes less effort than making themselves more appealing to the electorate in general and winning because the majority of voters favor their positions. I mean, that’s just so HARD, acting like a political party that seeks to represent a nation… so much easier to just cut down the pool of voters. It’s not like the country was founded on the principle of “all men are created equal” or anything. Oh wait…
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