Point: Voter ID Is a Sham
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Point: Voter ID Is a Sham

These laws are just the latest efforts to suppress turnout among underrepresented groups.

Scott Sherris

My great-grandmother, who had been named Sanke Yedidovich in the Old World, immigrated to New York 110 years ago from the town of Lubča in what is now Belarus. The first thing she did when she got settled was register to vote, exercising a freedom she had been denied as a Jew in the restrictive hinterlands of imperial Russia.

Just kidding: Women did not have the right to vote in New York in 1908. Had she arrived in America earlier, she also might have been denied the right to vote because she was Jewish, or because she wasn’t white enough, or because she didn’t own enough land.

The fear of those in charge, of course, was that these others would not vote the right way or for the right people.

But my great-grandparents had it far better than black and other nonwhite people in the South, where state-sponsored terrorists violently prevented them from voting through lynchings, arson, rape and murder, all condoned by collaborating local governments.

But this is 2018, and we’re in a better place. Sure, if my great-grandmother managed to get on U.S. soil, she wouldn’t be allowed to become a citizen and vote. And, sure, we disproportionately arrest and convict nonwhites for minor drug possession, which in most states means they can’t vote.

Cartoon by Bob Englehart, Middletown, Conn.

And, OK, it’s true that in most states, nonwhite, immigrant and non-Christian urban voters are gerrymandered so that when they do vote, they can’t affect the makeup of state legislatures. But this is still progress, and we’re heading in the direction of universal suffrage, right?

Well, apparently some people still feel there are too many people who do not vote the right way, and they are working to reverse that. So while it may be déclassé to erect burning crosses at people’s homes, they have found one thing that still works: voter ID.

Now I don’t believe there is any valid reason in principle to require identification to make sure elections have integrity. But there are three big clues that voter ID is fake news designed to restrict voting.

First, if you’re one of the right kind of people, you might not get to see how the Department of Driver Services, while a minor inconvenience to you, is a barrier to voting for others. If you live in the wrong kind of place, you might not have a DDS office near you.

Or if you do, it might not be open often enough or have enough staffers to service everyone. And if you didn’t drive a car, would you put up with that kind of hassle and expense just to vote?

And good luck if you live in an apartment and move frequently.

All that is to say that the way you can tell whether voter ID advocates are truly worried about fraud or voter suppression is to see whether they pair their ID requirements with ID access — making sure that everyone who wants an ID gets an ID.

Second, it’s telling which types of ID are allowed. In Tennessee, you can use your gun license to vote, but not a college ID. Why? Well, obviously, they want gun owners to vote but not college students. Of course, the students could line up at the DMV, but isn’t it interesting that it seems too hard for gun owners?

Third, while it’s great that Georgia has a liberal absentee voting regime, why is it that I don’t have to show any ID whatsoever to vote by mail, despite actual evidence of voter fraud via absentee ballots? It turns out that white people are more likely to vote that way.

In North Carolina, legislators have found that black people are more likely to participate in early and weekend voting. So — those got cut!

By the way, while poll workers in the affluent, conservative northern suburbs of Atlanta are, in my experience, very helpful to make sure you get to vote, some people have a different experience. In 2016, 12 voting districts in San Antonio illegally told people they couldn’t vote despite having valid ID and prevented them from voting.

You’re going to hear lots of cutesy stories about hypothetical concerns about fraud or general arguments meant to distract you from what voter ID advocates really want. But remember the real people, like the minority voters in San Antonio or the college students in Tennessee. Or my great-grandmother, who was finally allowed to vote in 1917.

You’ve read the Point; now read Dan Israel’s Counterpoint.

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