I served as an election judge again this past Tuesday for the general election. It was only my second time doing so, the first being at the primary in August. I enjoy being involved in our political process, and this seemed like a logical extension of that. It's a long day (14 and a half hours, at the least), but it goes by surprisingly fast, even when turn-out in your precinct is only 22%, as it was for the primary (this was unfortunately rather high, in reality). I knitted six washcloths that day.
On November 2, I did not expect to get that much knitting done (only four much smaller dishcloths) because turn-out would be higher. Indeed, we had 59% in our precinct, which is also, unfortunately, considered high.
We were warned by our head judge that there may be issues with voters wearing "ID Me" buttons or insisting that we check their ID. Just a few days before the election, the Supreme Court had denied a case brought by "Tea Partiers", in which they wanted the right to wear these materials. It was deemed to be covered by the "no campaign or political materials in the polling place" law, and we were to ask people to cover any such items. This includes sample ballots from specific parties and tee shirts that say "Wellstone!", even though he was clearly not running for election.
I did not see any buttons that said "ID Me," but I did have some rather forceful or snide individuals, muttering comments or stating outright nonsense regarding voter identification. I was only on the roster table for a few hours, so I am not sure what other judges may have heard, but I had three notable people offer their opinions. One woman was rather incensed, having "just found out today that Minnesota does not require ID to vote."
"I mean, that's ridiculous."
"It's the law, " I replied.
"Well, it's a stupid law," she said.
Another muttered, when I said that it was the law, "No wonder this state is so screwed up."
The final major comment was from a gentleman who proffered his ID in my face. When I said that we do not require ID, he said he knew, but wanted me to check his ID. I said it was the law that Minnesota does not require ID to vote, and I asked his last name. He remained silent and held the ID in my face. Once I had given him his ballot receipt, he said "It's the government's law that you have to have ID on you at all times. It's the law."
I closed my lips together firmly to keep from answering. He moved on.
Now, I have to say, "Really?" Where does he live, and where is he getting this information, and moreover, why does he believe it?
Voter fraud is a current specter striking fear into the hearts of white people across America. As this issue does divide mostly along partisan lines, with republicans favoring more Voter ID requirements and Democrats being against them, I have to ask the question, "Why?"
Is voter fraud a big problem? If so, would identification laws solve it? What's the big deal about requiring ID? You need ID for a lot of things, and voting is pretty important, so requiring ID to do so seems innocuous. Why does it divide along party lines? Who benefits and who loses? Why do some people assume that everyone else is lying, even when they themselves never would? Why didn't these people get upset in 2000 or 2004 when there were massive voting irregularities? Do they believe that liberals are stealing elections through voter fraud, and ID laws will fix that? Do they think that Minnesota is the only state that does not require ID?
In reality, 24 states do not require ID, and the other 26 have varying degrees of requirements. (National Conference of State Legislatures) Furthermore, from what I could gather, voter fraud of the type that would be caught by requiring ID is so rare as to be statistically uncountable, leading Project Vote to say:
"Voter identification requirements, while increasingly popular in state legislatures around the country, are a solution without a problem."
So, if voter fraud via voter impersonation is not a real problem (Again, the kind that would be caught by requiring Voter ID), then what is this really all about?
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as much as 12% of the eligible voting population does not have a government-issued photo ID. The majority of these people are seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, students, and women. It seems to me that Voter ID hoopla is meant to instill fear in a certain sector of the population, that certain other sectors of the population are voting illegally, so that ID laws can be passed, making it harder for those certain other sectors of the voting population to vote.
If we are truly concerned about fairness in elections, then we need well-funded, well-trained election oversight departments and officials, who can track down irregularities when they occur. We need to pursue cases of voter intimidation, which, unlike voter impersonation, actually do happen. We need to make information about voting and voting rights as well as election and polling information easily available to the voters.
The "Voter ID" issue is a low-hanging fear-fruit. It "sounds good" when you hear it, and people will shrug, thinking it's no big deal. That's often because they have not thought any deeper about the issue, such as barriers to obtaining government-issued ID, how those barriers affect different groups of people, and who it is that these laws would keep from voting.
It only "sounds good" when you don't have to think about it, and it doesn't affect you.