Massachusetts House and Senate Republicans are part of a nation-wide effort to suppress the vote of people of color, college students, the elderly, and, of course, the poor. Covering the legislative flank for the sometimes illegal, activist push of Show ID to Vote, Massachusetts Republicans have introduced a number of bills to make it more difficult for the 10% or so of the population that doesn’t have acceptable identification. Our Republicans may not have taken the brash, and probably counter-productive, stand of Florida’s Rick Scott, but they have quietly laid the groundwork for disenfranchising a sizeable portion of Massachusetts’s citizens.
Time and again, we’ve gone of the issue of voters showing ID at the poll here at BMG. As many as 11 percent of United States citizens – more than 21 million individuals – do not have government-issued photo identification, according to the Brennan Center. Mother Jones generated a handy graphic from the Brennan Center’s data.
Not only does it explain whom Voter ID discriminates against, it suggests why most of us don’t know people who lack valid ID’s: they are clustered among the poor. (The Blacks, Asians, and Latino’s lacking a valid photo ID are disproportionately poor).
It’s Validity, Stupid
Why don’t poor folks have ID’s? What’s their problem? If the rest of us can provide identification, why shouldn’t they? The Brennan Center reports:
ten percent of voting-age citizens who have current photo ID do not have photo ID with both their current address and their current legal name. The rate is higher among younger citizens: as many as 18 percent of citizens aged 18-24 do not have photo ID with current address and name; using 2004 census tallies, that amounts to almost 4.5 million American citizens.
The problem is not lack of identification so much as it is the validity of that identification. Poor people change residences more frequently than the rest of society. Many poor young people lack a driver’s license. College students may be more likely to have a driver’s license, but often face residence problems. Women who marry often change their name.
In a nutshell, VoterID laws are a simple response to a virtually non-existent problem. They sound reasonable enough, particularly if you’re not affected by them. But Republicans like Rick Scott who ordered county registrars to purge their voter registration lists based on a list that was 98.4% inaccurate are targeting Hispanic voters. The excuse this time: non-Americans might illegally register to vote. Although Democrats are not necessarily above suppressing votes, at present, voter suppression is a Republican strategy, a contemporary version of Jim Crow.
I think we agree that all eligible people should be able to vote. But voter fraud is a straw man advanced by the forces of voter suppression. There were, for example, eight substantiated cases of individuals knowingly casting invalid votes (eight voters voting twice) in New Jersey in the 2004 election. The rate of fraud? 0.0004%! None of these problems could have been resolved by requiring photo ID at the polls. That’s right. Enacting VoterID laws wouldn’t much of anything to prevent the actual voter fraud problems that do exist.
There Is a Better Way: Modernize Voter Registration
There are a lot of problems with our system of voting. Some are Constitutional, some historical. Virtually all of them are avoidable with modern technology. In a healthy democracy, voting should be as easy as breathing, but we make it difficult with the voter registration process. To register to vote in my town, for example, people have to either be available during the hours town clerk’s office is open (9-3 Monday-Thursday and 9-noon-Friday. The town clerk will make appointments outside those hours if requested). In a city, voter registration can require a long bus ride downtown. Making things worse, unscrupulous local governments can add all kinds of roadblocks to the process of voter registration. There is no legitimate reason to make voter registration difficult.
Making voter registration difficult makes voter identification difficult. Make registration easier and identification becomes easier. The Brennan Center outlines four doable, cost-saving measures for improving voter registration and reducing the opportunity for fraud:
- Automated Registration: State election officials automatically register consenting eligible citizens by electronically transmitting reliable information from other government lists.
- Portability: Once an eligible citizen is on a state’s voter rolls, she remains registered and her records move with her so long as she continues to reside in that state.
- Safety Net: Eligible citizens can correct errors on the voter rolls before and on Election Day.
- Online Access: Voters can register, check and update their registration records through a secure and accessible online portal.
Because this system is largely paperless, it saves money. Because it uses reliable information from other government lists, registers voters in a state database rather than relying merely on records being stored at a town or city hall, and allows voters to correct errors online and before and Election Day, the miniscule chance of voter impersonation is covered. In return, more voters are registered. Voter registration doesn’t guarantee that people will vote, but the vast majority of registered voters vote. In 2008, 90 percent of all registered individuals reported voting. Of those who didn’t vote, 80 percent were not registered to vote. Alleged apathy by American voters has less to do with the desire to participate than the ease of doing so.
If the Massachusetts Republican Party cared about preventing voter fraud, they would be concerned with improving voter registration in Massachusetts instead of creating more obstacles. What follows is a list of bills and their Republican sponsors:
Photo ID Required to Vote
Bill: H.B. 1113 (Shaunna O’Connell)
Bill: H.B. 1115 (Elizabeth A. Poirier)
Bill: H.B. 2731 (Bradley Jones)
Bill: S.B. 316 (Richard Ross, Winslow, Tarr, Smola and other members)
Bill: H.B. 3116 (Stephen Levy)
Photo ID Requested to Vote
Bill: H.B. 1104 (Stephen Cannessa)
Voter ID Required to Vote
Bill: S.B. 318 (Michael Rush)
Bill: H.B. 191 (Viriato Manuel deMacedo)
Bill: S.B. 320 (Bruce Tarr, Timilty, Moore, Ross and other members )
Bill: H.B. 1108 (Colleen M. Garry)
Proof of Citizenship Required to Register to Vote
Bill: H.B. 194 (Bradford Hill)