An Immodest Proposal on “voting rights”

October 12, 2014

As we draw close to November, “voting rights” is a subject much in the news, with several states attempting to ensure that voters (a) are eligible to vote in that state and (b) do not vote multiple times. By a wide measure, most Americans agree that presenting valid identification as proof of voting eligibility is a pretty good idea.

But as The Atlantic reports, there is passionate resistance from people who believe ID is a right-wing conspiracy to suppress the votes of people who’d more naturally vote for the left—or at least that’s the argument:

A flurry of last-minute court decisions is upending voting rules in key states less than a month before the midterm congressional elections.

The Supreme Court on Thursday night blocked a restrictive voter ID law in Wisconsin after opponents said it would cause “chaos” at the polls and noted that ballot forms had already been sent out to voters that did not make clear they needed to provide identification. The brief order by Justice Elena Kagan overturned a September decision by an appellate court, over the opposition of conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas.

Also on Thursday night, a lower federal trial court struck down a 2011 voter ID law in Texas with a scathing opinion determining that the statute, which was designed to combat voter fraud, “creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.”

To some people, me especially included, it seems like a prima facie case of racism to suggest that brown and black people are incapable of securing identification. Call it the hard bigotry of no expectations.

So who is “eligible” to vote? Here, again, is The Atlantic to explain:

What, then, about the right to vote? The phrase appears for the first time in the Fourteenth Amendment, which says that states shall lose congressional representation “when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime.”

That language appears in Article 14, and since it was written and passed almost 150 years ago, two subsequent Amendments (the 19th and 26th) have extended voting rights to women and lowered the voting age to 18.

There has never been an Amendment extending voting rights to non citizens. Which quite reasonably suggests that proof of citizenship is required.

How does one prove citizenship? The first time you apply for a passport, which is something granted only to citizens, you have to provide a birth certificate. And by the way, traveling somewhere where you need a passport requires valid identification, too. As does, for that matter, getting a Social Security number, opening a bank account, entering a federal building, enrolling in school, landing a job, receiving welfare benefits, checking into a hotel, renting an apartment, being stopped for jaywalking, etc.

So what’s the big deal about showing ID before registering to vote and then voting? I have my suspicions, but why bother naming them or arguing about the matter when there’s a reasonable solution, one that can be applied on a state-by-state basis?

Though the Second Amendment explicitly grants us the “right to keep and bear arms,” every state erects various obstacles to the exercise of this right. New York and California, for example, have restricted rights in a way that makes it difficult to purchase a gun, let alone keep and bear one. Vermont and New Hampshire, on the other hand, have few restrictions, allowing almost all non-felonious/dangerous citizens to buy and bear guns.

So let’s require by statute that each state/municipality apply the same rules to voting as it does to the purchase of a handgun. Both are constitutional rights, but only one is subject to onerous, disqualifying restrictions. Why, because guns are dangerous in the wrong hands? No one would deny that.

But the operative words are “wrong hands,” which apply also to the ballot box. The danger to the body politic from voter fraud is in its own way every bit as destructive as a thug with a .38.

In general, those who favor the least restrictive voting rights tend to favor the most restrictive gun rights, and on the other side the obverse is true. Which means this immodest proposal comes with built-in political stabilizers and—if we haven’t yet given up looking for ways to bridge the widening divide—unavoidable compromise.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

LukeHandCool October 13, 2014 at 7:04 am

“Call it the hard bigotry of no expectations.”

With the “world community” and Israel, I call it, “The hard bigotry of impossible expectations.”

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