Opinion: Taking away your right to vote, one state at a time

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As a person living in 21st-century America, you probably think you live in the freest nation on Earth, one that respects the rights of all its citizens. After centuries of progress, you might think we’re finally at a point where everyone has an equal right to, I don’t know, let’s say, vote? 

Actually, no — not if Republican governors have anything to say about it. Republican-led states across the nation have been cracking down on “voter fraud,” in which persons may try to cheat during the election process by voting under a false identity. Last Thursday, Wisconsin joined the nine states that have passed new restrictions on voting and voter registration since 2013.

Democrats have argued that Republicans passed the laws for political reasons, as the new rules will most likely affect minorities and poor voters. But Republicans maintain that the rules are about voter fraud and fairness. So why are these laws really popping up?

What exactly are the new rules?

It depends on what state you look at. Currently, 16 states require photo ID at the polls, and another 16 states require a non-photo ID. The problem is that “photo ID” can mean a lot of things. In Texas, a gun permit is acceptable but a student ID is not, a quirk that would favor conservative gun owners over college students, who tend to be more liberal. Wisconsin, like most of the states, strictly requires a government-issued ID, most commonly a driver’s license. The problem there is that minorities, the poor and the elderly — all historically Democratic voters — are less likely to own a driver’s license. In Milwaukee alone, black voters are 40 percent less likely to have the required ID. 

The recent eruption of new voting laws came after the Supreme Court struck down a part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013. That part of the law required that Southern states with a history of discriminatory voting policies must check with the Justice Department before implementing any new voting law, a rule that was supposed to protect minorities’ rights in the South. The Court thought it was no longer necessary.

The court was wrong. When you let the South do what it wants, you get North Carolina cutting early voting and same-day registration and requiring photo ID that excludes student and state worker IDs. Other states followed suit, hopping on the crusade to fight “voter fraud.”

But that’s not what this is about.

If you had any suspicion that the laws weren’t really about fraud, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai will back you up. During the 2012 presidential campaign, he got on stage and declared that a Pennsylvania voter ID law is what would win Romney the election.

Turzai was just being honest about the intention of these laws. Minorities and the poor are less likely to have the right ID or to be able to pay the fees to acquire a state-issued ID. Kansas and Arizona now require proof of citizenship for voter registration — birth certificate, passport or the like — which is a giant obstacle to those who don’t have or can’t afford to quickly get those documents. Wisconsin was nice enough to provide a “free” state-issued ID to those who ask, but it was putting up a $28 dollar charge to every person who wasn’t aware the IDs were supposed to be free. When a government worker tried to remind his coworkers to tell people the IDs were free, he was fired.

Show me the fraud!

The fact is there is nearly no voter fraud in our country. From 2002 to 2007, the Justice Department found 120 cases of fraud, 86 of which led to convictions (which is around 0.00000027 percent of the entire U.S. population), and some of those involved people who just filled out the forms incorrectly.

And if Republican governors really wanted to crack down on this “fraud” we speak of, they would just implement a system in which everyone is required to have a government ID specifically for voting and then mail an ID to every state citizen. But that is not the case.

Once upon a time, there was the Constitution.

The new voting laws remind us of the days when states would charge people a poll tax in order to vote — our leaders are just more crafty now. Any unnecessary obstacle to voting aimed at a certain group of people is in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and in violation of the freedom our country stands for. The Justice Department has begun to sue states like North Carolina and Texas over these voting laws, but what we can do is to vote out any elected official who won’t stand up for voting rights and instead elect those who will. We need to exercise our rights, not give them away.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ellis Arnold at Ellis.arnold@colorado.edu.

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