Voting: a right and a privilege, not a right for the privileged

Jul 27 2012

When I was 4 years old, my mother taught me how to tell whether I could trust people. She said to trust my instincts. Speaking in terms a young child could understand, she said, “you can tell you shouldn’t trust someone if they give you a funny tummy feeling.”

I find that idea works not only for children lost in a grocery store. I use it when analyzing politics. The current concern with “voter fraud” and the remedy of new voter ID legislation gives me a funny tummy feeling.

Individual states–many of them southern, many of them rust-belt swing states–have been debating new voter ID laws and passing legislation to make it more difficult for minorities, the elderly and college students to vote on election day.

Conservative politicians who advocate for these laws claim that requiring voters to show ID protects against fraud. However, there is no evidence that a modern election has been altered by fraudulent votes. In fact, The New York Times reported that “A number of election law experts, based on their own research, have concluded that the accusations regarding widespread fraud are unjustified.”

Still, conservative lawmakers are hell-bent on passing legislation for something that works more to suppress voter participation than encourage it.
The NAACP, among others, has been a vocal opponent of new voter ID legislation. A significant number of individuals who lack IDs are African-Americans and other minorities. According the The Huffington Post, Attorney General Eric Holder said that while only 8 percent of whites lack the necessary identification to vote, 25 percent of black people lack such identification.

Why, then, are conservative lawmakers pushing so hard? It looks like nothing more than a poorly disguised effort to obstruct democracy. In 2008, the African-American vote overwhelmingly went to Obama. No wonder conservatives are willing to stoop to any level to pass legislation to prevent Obama from winning a second term.
Young voters, especially college students, are another group affected by new voter ID laws. Only about 50 percent of college students who live on campus have cars, which require a current driver’s license. Additionally, students who move to other states for college have to jump through extra hoops when trying to get an ID. College students frequently change residency on campus, which could catch them in the snare of new voter ID requirements.

It is well known that 18-24 year-olds have a lower turnout than older groups. Why then would conservative lawmakers want to put further hurdles in the way of young adults? The answer is quite simple–60 percent voters aged 18-29 lean toward Obama, whereas only 29 percent support Romney.

Moreover, it is fundamentally wrong to charge a fee for voting, which is the effect of requiring an ID. Eric Holder calls these poll taxes. Who would have thought that in 2012, after countless struggles and triumphs against discriminatory voting practices, this would become an issue again?

IDs can be a cruel expense for the poor and the elderly. For example, it costs $34.50 for a driver’s license in Pennsylvania, which has very strict voter ID rules. Even simple identification cards cost $13.50, which is enough to force needy families to choose between putting food on the table and voting. For many, voting is the only opportunity to have a voice.
Voter ID legislation that specifically penalizes minorities, the young and the elderly are unfair and unconstitutional. Furthermore, they endanger the ideals of fairness and the long-sought victories of equal suffrage in this country. After all, inclusiveness is what makes the big melting pot we live in so great. The opportunity for all races and ages to participate in the important practice of democracy is threatened.

Doesn’t that give you a funny tummy feeling, too?

Hannah K. Field is a senior at Brevard High School in Brevard, N.C, and a 2012 Chuck Stone Program for Diversity in Education and the Media scholar.

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