[Bl]ock The Vote

by jth

A word about Arkansas Senate Bill 2, the Voter Suppression ID law that passed the AR House on Wednesday, and was previously approved by a supermajority of the Arkansas Senate:

Acceptable forms of photo ID under this bill will be those with your name and photo issued by the United States, the State of Arkansas, or a post-secondary educational institution. Examples include a valid Arkansas driver’s license, Arkansas photo ID card, Concealed Carry Permit, U.S. Passport, Military ID, Student ID (postsecondary, see above), Public Assistance ID, or Voter ID card. An estimated 80,000 voting age Arkansans are thought to be without possession of any of the acceptable forms of photo ID.

The folks lacking such photo IDs — mostly seniors, African Americans, the disabled and Latinos — would be required to obtain a photo Voter ID card by traveling to, or getting someone to drive them to, their county seat/county clerk’s office if they want to continue to exercise their constitutional right to vote. No doubt some, if not several, of these voters will likely be discouraged and just quit voting at all.

SB 2, as with other similar Voter ID bills in other states, establishes a way for an individual to get a photo ID for free (if the state were to charge for it, such charge would likely be considered a poll tax and illegal under both federal and state constitutions). The Secretary of State must now purchase photo ID equipment for all the county clerks in Arkansas.

This bill deals with one — and only one — type of election fraud: in-person voter impersonation at polling places. Simply, that is when someone goes to a polling place and casts a vote with the intention to impersonate an eligible voter. There have been zero substantiated cases of in-person voter impersonation fraud in Arkansas, and fewer than a dozen nationwide over the past 10 years or so. As an example, Texas has more than 600,000 registered voters without a photo ID, but had only four alleged cases of voter impersonation in the past two elections.

Attempting to impersonate an eligible voter is already a felony-level offense in Arkansas, which carries a significant potential fine and up to 10 years in jail. Why any sane person would take such a risk to add a single vote, highly unlikely to change the outcome of any state or national election, is beyond my ability to comprehend. Even the likelihood of a single rogue vote affecting a local election is small (though certainly not impossible, as those of us who lived through the saga of the tie in the 2010 Stone County Sheriff’s primary can attest).

One theory is that SB 2 violates the Arkansas Constitution. Amendment 51, which outlawed the poll tax and established a system of permanent voter registration, prevents the legislature or a local government from adding new requirements for voting beyond the lengthy procedures in that amendment. Indeed, Amendment 51 addresses the very problem that the bill claims to attack — people trying to cast someone else’s vote.

Additionally, the plain language of the Arkansas Constitution says that any measure which impacts the requirements of Amendment 51 requires a 2/3 majority vote by the legislature to enact. This bill obviously impacts the requirements, as it imposes an additional requirement of presenting photo ID. However, the House Rules Committee found that the bill only required a simple majority vote, and the vote in both the committee and on the House floor fell largely along party lines, with most Democrats in opposition and Republicans in support.

The bill may be vetoed by Governor Beebe, but as we have seen in the case of other vetoed bills, a majority necessary to override any veto does exist and can be called to action. In the face of the new burden created by SB2, it is up to all of us who do not care to see others disenfranchised to provide whatever assistance we can in making sure that each and every eligible Arkansans who wants to vote has some sort of photo ID in their possession. This will require an effort of outreach, education, and being a good neighbor and citizen. In order to make sure everyone who wants to exercise our most sacred civic right remains able to do so, we must care enough to begin working now.

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Epilogue: My personal opinion on the subject of this type of Voter ID law is that it is both arbitrary and unnecessary. I won’t go in to what motivates such laws, but it doesn’t appear to be any honest effort to preserve the integrity of the voting process. Moreover, I do not accept the argument that “you need an ID to drive a car, take out a loan, rent a movie, etc.” These are privileges, not rights. Driving on public roadways is a privilege bestowed by the state whose roads you drive on. Loans, rentals, and similar transactions are generally offered by private entities, and they are free to attach whatever requirements to such transactions as they deem necessary in the course of business. While you must show ID to board a plane, and you do have a right to travel, that right does not grant you the unencumbered ability to utilize any particular commercial means of travel you might choose.

I will admit that this argument breaks down when you begin talking about the government requiring ID for things like public benefits, use of government-owned facilities, etc. I contend that such things are still merely privileges, as you are utilizing public systems and infrastructure that is owned and financed by the public at large, with the government acting as the caretaker and/or administrator. But a vote is a right that belongs to you — and you alone. It is inherent, inalienable, and requires no grant of authority from any other person or entity. You are asked to demonstrate your eligibility to exercise your right within a particular jurisdiction through a process of registration, but realistically this is for purposes of electoral organization; formal elections provide the medium through which we exercise our voting rights.

Voting is one of the great gifts bestowed upon our citizenry by this Republic we have created and cultivated over the centuries. It is the cornerstone of everything we stand for. We should always be vigilant to protect the integrity of the voting process, but there is bare little evidence that Voter ID requirements such as those laid out in SB2 provide any real protections; rather, they seem to address a problem which largely does not exist. Perhaps our elected representatives underestimate exactly how greatly the general population respects voting rights, illustrated through the relative rarity of in-person voter impersonation. Certainly, there are other ways in which the voting process can be (and is) compromised. Legislation should do more to address those problems, and less to create barriers around one of our most basic and fundamental rights.

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