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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Columns

Voter ID laws are regressive and politicized


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/ user: MarkBuckawicki

The right to vote lies at the heart of American democracy. Time after time, disenfranchised groups have fought long and hard to claim this right as one of their own.

Women gained the right in 1920 with the passing of the 19th Amendment, African Americans in 1965 with the Voting Rights Act and other groups thereafter. While it may appear that disenfranchisement is simply a stain of the past, the reality is that partisanship has created a new strategic battleground to silence the votes of millions in order to secure and retain power.

This battleground is voter ID laws.

Although poll taxes and literacy tests have since been outlawed, tougher voter ID laws have gained traction among many as a solution to a problem that does not exist. Similar to gerrymandering, where votes are effectively manipulated by strategic portioning of districts, tougher voter ID laws act against minority voters before they even make it to the ballot box.

These laws function to prohibit many who lack the proper identification from participating in a system to which they are equally entitled. 

Proponents of stricter voter ID laws argue that increased security for elections is assuredly a better thing, but the truth is since 2000, only 31 credible cases of voter fraud occurred over the course of one billion votes cast, according to the ACLU. This means tougher voter ID laws are not simply a “security upgrade.”

These laws function by requiring voters to present specific forms of government-issued photo ID that not everyone may have. In fact, as many as 11 percent of citizens report they do not have valid government-issued ID with a photo, according to the NYU School of Law.

Further, not only is this problem a pervasive one, but it’s one that disproportionately affects certain minority groups known to lean left politically. The toughening of voter ID deprives millions of minorities, including low-income, racial/ethnic minorities, the elderly and the disabled, the right to vote.

For example, 25 percent of eligible African American voters do not have current government-issued photo ID, whereas this number is only 8 percent for eligible white voters.

Those in favor of these tougher voter ID laws may argue that this number is not as the result of any discriminatory restrictions. However, to say this would be to ignore the barriers to entry that minorities have been the victim of for centuries.

Minority groups and those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged have lower rates of voter eligibility under these restrictive laws because it’s more difficult for these groups to not only pay the fees associated with government IDs, but also to produce the documentation necessary to receive them.

No group of people should be specifically targeted by legislation and subsequently admonished for failing to comply.

This disproportionate divide in the population affected by these laws makes it clear why many on the right have mobilized this issue of voter ID under the guise of patriotism and national security.

From President Donald Trump’s Administration establishing a false basis for these laws with the unfounded estimate of 3-5 million non-citizens voting in the 2016 presidential election, to Pennsylvania state House Republican leader Mike Turzai explicitly stating in 2012 that voter ID laws would allow Gov. Mitt Romney to win Pennsylvania, the intent is clear as day.

The reality is that losing a large chunk of the electorate does not matter to Republicans as long as a majority of that chunk would have voted for the opposing party.

An election is only representative when all eligible members of the body being governed are freely able to cast their vote. Voter ID laws stand directly in the way of a fair and functioning democracy as they target the vulnerabilities of minorities, the elderly and low-income individuals and place them in a de facto battle for suffrage in the name of solving a voter fraud problem which simply does not exist.

Opinion columnist Ryan Nowrouzi is a biomedical sciences junior and can be reached at [email protected]

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