When Conservative Logic Supports a Progressive Cause: Guns & Voter ID

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 1.40.08 AMWhenever I try to debate gun policy with conservatives, I always hear the same arguments. The most common one is that new gun laws, such as universal background checks, only affect law-abiding gun owners. Well, it’s time to use a little conservative logic for a liberal cause. It’s time to look at this exact argument in relation to the way new voter ID laws affect law-abiding voters. Conservatives need to understand that if they want to make this argument, they need to apply it equally to voting rights. Gun violence in America is at an all time high, yet many conservatives oppose all regulations, including universal background checks. At the same time, voter fraud is at an all time low, yet these same conservatives are strong proponents of voter ID laws. If we as a country are not allowed to use legislation to attempt to solve a problem that exists (gun violence) because of concerns that even the least burdensome regulations will be too much of an encumbrance on the 2nd Amendment, then we surely should not be allowed to use voter ID legislation to combat a voter fraud problem that just doesn’t exist.

I’m sure you’ve heard this argument from someone who is a proponent of gun rights: “No matter what laws are passed regarding gun control or ownership, criminals aren’t going to abide by them. Only law-abiding gun owners will be hurt by placing restrictive rules or bans on gun ownership.” How many times have you heard someone mention Chicago? They might have said something like, “Look at Chicago, they have the strictest gun laws in the country but they also have the highest crime rate.” The funny thing is, the same conservatives who make arguments against stricter gun regulations, are the same conservatives that make arguments for stricter voter ID laws. This makes using conservative logic on gun laws to argue against voter ID laws a pretty simple task.

The Founding Fathers of this country set in place a foundation by way of our founding documents, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The United States stands on that foundation and the right to vote is equally as fundamental as the 2nd Amendment. Criminals commit crimes with guns, and criminals commit voter fraud, albeit voter fraud is committed at a much lower rate than gun crime is (even Fox News has published an article stating that voter ID laws target rarely occurring voter fraud), but we shouldn’t make reactionary laws that unnecessarily (emphasis added) infringe on any of our constitutional rights. The point is you can’t practice selective constitutional ideology. If it’s not okay to infringe on some constitutionally protected rights (gun rights; like conservatives claim) even when there is a large gun violence problem, then it’s definitely not okay to infringe on others (voting rights), when there is hardly a problem at all. The means must always justify the ends. Moreover, in my opinion, the voter ID laws that are currently being pursued have nothing to do with protecting the integrity of our elections; rather they are purposely being propagated to purge those who tend to vote for Democrats from the voter rolls. If this is not the case, then I believe the requirements I lay out in this article for providing free ID for citizens must be met before any voter ID laws can go into effect. Otherwise, these laws will only serve as cleverly veiled attempts to control who is allowed to vote in the first place, which is the most pathetic and un-American way any group could attempt to win an election.

This logically raises another argument that should also be addressed, the argument that, “if one must be an American citizen to vote and each citizen only gets one vote, then it should be alright to require a photo ID to prove that one is a citizen and is only casting one vote.” My response is that I believe this might be acceptable, depending on how it was to be implemented. The government would need to pay to provide each and every citizen a free voter photo ID card; the Constitution prohibits poll taxes so it would be unconstitutional to make anyone pay. The government would also have to make the process effortless, as not to disenfranchise anyone who was a lawful citizen. For example, take the 93 year old Vivette Applewhite, who has been alive for so long, she no longer possesses the documents she needs to get a photo ID. Without it, she would not have been able to cast a ballot in this past election, something she had been doing practically her entire life. Thankfully, a Pennsylvania court blocked the law, but for voter ID to work, we would have to ensure that people like Ms. Applewhite would not be disenfranchised. If we are unable to provide IDs in this uncomplicated manner we should not have voter ID laws.

Additionally, if we consider the costs that the government would incur to provide these IDs and to ensure all legal citizens could obtain them, as compared to the minuscule amount of voter fraud cases over the past ten years, from a utilitarian perspective, I am not sure the laws would be worth the money. Moreover, if it is acceptable to force citizens to show ID in order to exercise their constitutional voting rights, it should be acceptable to make prospective gun buyers pass a universal background check, to ensure they are not felons nor mentally unstable and to ensure that guns do not end up in the hands of criminals. If you are a law-abiding citizen who is perfectly okay with the idea of having to show ID to exercise one Constitutional right, you should be equally okay with the idea of having to pass a background check to exercise another.

Then there is the argument that you have to show ID to drink, smoke, and enter certain venues so it shouldn’t be an issue to show ID to vote. But, the thing is, there is no fundamental constitutional right to drink or to smoke. While the 9th Amendment serves not to deny rights maintained by the people, it has never been interpreted to grant a fundamental constitutional right to drink or smoke. In fact, laws regarding drinking and smoking are subject only to rational basis review (the lowest level of scrutiny under the law) as compared to freedom of speech, which is subject to strict scrutiny (the highest level of review under the law) because it is a fundamental constitutional right.

Conservatives bring up the situation in Chicago, they point out that even though Chicago has the strictest gun laws, the city still has a high crime rate. They claim that no matter what laws are passed, criminals will not abide by them. They say that law-abiding gun owners are hurt by regulations. Well the same goes for voter ID. If you are someone who believes stricter gun laws do not prevent gun violence, then what makes you think stricter voter ID laws will prevent voter fraud? By that logic, criminals would not abide by voter ID laws and the laws would only hurt law-abiding, honest voters.

Voter ID laws disenfranchise lawful voters, because these reactionary laws that some states have tried to pass (some or most of which have been struck down by courts as unconstitutional), put an increased burden on elderly and poor citizens of all races and backgrounds. Many of the law-abiding citizens, who usually only need to travel a short distance to vote, are forced to travel greater distances to obtain the proper documentation. Other people, who cannot afford a day off of work, are forced to take one, in order to obtain the proper documents. If these law-abiding citizens do not have the wherewithal to do so, they are disenfranchised; that’s just not very American.

Ilyssa Fuchs

Ilyssa Fuchs is an attorney, freelance writer, and activist from New York City, who holds both a juris doctor and a political science degree. She is the founder of the popular Facebook page Politically Preposterous and a blog of the same name. Follow Ilyssa on Twitter @IlyssaFuchs, and be sure to check out her archives on Forward Progressives as well!


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