“A number of laws that are said to protect citizens harkens back to “Jim Crow” era.”
― J.C. Phillips
In the history of our country there have been few rights as hard won as the right to vote. The right to vote has evolved from something only enjoyed by white landowning males to a mark of citizenship accessible to most of those who seek it. We have witnessed major social uprisings caused by the right to vote being denied, and we have seen men and women give their lives in the pursuit of ensuring universal ballot access. Unfortunately, while huge strides have been made in terms of ensuing everyone has the right to vote, there are those who in the name of partisan politics would try and construct barriers to voting. Both major political parties are guilty of such manipulation, and their two most popular tactics today are the introduction of voter ID and early voting laws.
Voter ID Laws
In recent years voter ID laws have become increasingly common in the United States. As of October 2015 thirty two states have adopted laws requiring voters to provide a form of identification in order to cast a ballot, and four more states have similar laws pending. Most voter ID laws take one of two approaches, “strict” or “non-strict,” with the difference being who the burden of proving identity is placed on. “Strict” voter ID laws require that someone wishing to vote, but does not have a form of ID, cast a provisional ballot and then return to either the polling station or the local Electoral Management Board (EMB) later with a photo ID. Those who do not return with an ID will not have their votes counted. There are currently ten states with “Strict” voter ID laws. “Non-Strict” voter ID laws allow for voters to cast a provisional ballot and, after the polls close, election officials will determine if the voter was eligible and registered, and therefore whether the provisional ballot should be counted. In a “non-strict” voter ID State, no after-action on the part of the voter is required. There are currently twenty two states with “non-strict” voter ID laws.
Opponents of voter ID laws cite the importance of preventing voter fraud as the main justification for creating this extra requirement. The rationale is that when forced to provide a form of ID it becomes harder for an individual to vote as someone else or multiple times. However, the voter fraud that these measures are supposed to prevent is very rare. A 2014 project at Arizona State University, found only 28 cases of voter fraud since the year 2000 and of these 28 cases voter impersonation accounted for only 3% of the identified cases. Opponents of these laws assert that requiring voters to purchase and present IDs creates an unnecessary burden and can even discourage people from exercising their right to vote. According to a study done by the American Civil Liberties Union, “more than 21 million Americans do not have government-issued photo identification; a disproportionate number of these Americans are low-income, racial and ethnic minorities and elderly.” Since many of these Americans cannot afford to pay for these required IDs or cannot afford to take the time off to go and complete the process for acquiring them, their access to the polls is limited and their fundamental right to vote, impeded.
Early Voting Laws
Early voting laws first took effect in Florida in 2004, and have since spread to thirty three states and the District of Columbia. The idea behind early voting laws is that voters will be given access to the polls for an extended time before the “official” Election Day. The hope is that by extending the amount of time people have to go out and vote those who might normally miss out on Election Day can still participate. The average time for a state to hold an early voting opportunity is twenty two days before the official Election Day. Supporters of early voting laws cite it as “modernizing elections” and point out that the single Election Day model is outdated. Director of the Brennan Center for Justice, Diana Kasdan, in her article “Early Voting: What Works” points out that “for many [Americans] each day is a struggle to balance the needs of work and family — confining voting to a single 8- or 12-hour period is simply not reflective of how most voters live.” Kasdan goes on to assert that “having polls open for such a short time can lead to numerous problems, including long lines, as poll workers — who perform the job infrequently at best — struggle to cope with hordes of voters.”
Most opposition to early voting laws concentrates on two main factors: opportunity for fraud, and “rushing the vote.” In their article, “The Case against Early Voting”, Eugene Kontorovich and John Mcginnis, constitutional law professors at Northwestern University School of Law argue that states that allow their citizens vote early, up to 46 days in some states, run the risk of shortening the time they need to gather the “information necessary to be able to make a choice.” Kontorovich and Mcginnis further explain that “a lot can happen in 46 days,” and that early voters miss out on information that can come from later debates, further media scrutiny of candidates, and “the proverbial ‘October surprise”. If a citizen has already cast their votes, and then learns new information about the candidates, there is nothing they can do to change their vote and their vote becomes invalidated. The second objection, the opportunity for fraud, is much less of a concern. As mentioned earlier, in a 2014 project at Arizona State University, found only 28 cases of voter fraud since the year 2000.
Partisan Politics in Elections:
While the two policies described above may have originally been intended to help improve elections, more recently they have been hijacked by Political Parties and used to try and shape the electorate. Early voting laws, probably the more innocent of the two laws, have been shown to give a slight advantage to the Democratic Party. Republican strategist Lenny McAllister explained that this slight Democratic advantage comes from the fact that those living in urban areas are more likely to take advantage of early voting; a demographic that generally leans Democrat. McAllister gives the anecdotal example of a family is more able to pick up an elderly or disabled family member for a weekend vote “they go to church, they go to breakfast, they go to the polls that one Sunday or those two Sundays that early voting is available. And generally speaking, when you’re talking about those types of environments, those types of voters, they’re in urban environments, they’re in urban districts, and they’re generally going to lean Democratic.” Overall while early voting does tend to give the Democrats a slight advantage, it is still a tool that promotes overall turn out and breaks down barriers to voting. Voter ID Laws, which tend to favor the Republican Party, are the much more nefarious tool. Unlike early voting laws, which give an advantage to the Democrats as a result of an increase in voter turnout, Voter ID laws actively work to block people from voting. They are discriminatory in practice, as they are more likely to keep African Americans (up to 25%), the Elderly (up to 18%), and those in poverty from voting. They are a blatantly partisan maneuver which strips those who most need to have their voice heard, of their right to vote; a right has been fought for on battle fields ranging from Lexington and Concord to Seneca Falls and Mississippi. We have seen people willing to give their lives to ensure the right to vote is enjoyed by all people. Measures such as voting ID laws operate in direct opposition to these values.