By James El-Mallakh–
This voting season, one of the most prominent and controversial issues is that of voter identification laws.
Since around 2003, many states started to pass laws that increase the requirements of voting. Legislation like this has increased nation-wide as the general election draws near.
According to the website of the Nation Council of State Legislators, a bipartisan group committed to serving state policy makers, “Twenty-one states have passed major [voter ID] legislation during the period 2003-2011.” This includes swing states like Ohio and Florida, which are considered crucial for winning the general election.”
The debate is about what the goals of the new laws are.
Most republican legislators favor the new laws because they claim that the laws are a reasonable way to prevent voter fraud. Voter fraud is typically an instance in which someone votes under the name of someone else. Assumed identities are usually someone who is deceased or too elderly to go to the polls. Voter fraud is a way that people can cast multiple votes for their favored candidate.
Democrats are generally against the recent voter ID laws and say the laws are merely a way of suppressing voters. The demographic groups that are less likely to have a photo ID are also groups that have traditionally been more likely to vote democrat. These groups include college students, the elderly, minorities and the poor. According to those who oppose emerging voter ID bills, these new laws would make it harder for these demographics to vote. They also argue that voter fraud is a rare occurrence and the new laws would do more to turn away registered voters than it would prevent fraud.
In many states, voters are allowed to give their names, but don’t have to verify their identity with any form of ID.
“It’s hard to know what the motives are,” said Jason Gainous, an associate professor in the political science department. Gainous says that the debate is really centered around both parties seeking re-election. “[Politicians] are single-minded seekers of re-election… so if they’re trying to make some choice that is directly related to how votes are getting counted, then my guess is it has something to do with how they think that new law is going to affect the outcome of the election.”
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, there may be as many as 11 million eligible voters in the U.S. who do not have a photo ID. The voting rate among eligible voters for the 2008 election was 61 percent, which means less than 11 million would be affected by voter ID laws in the 2012 election. Additionally, voters who are in states that have not passed voter ID laws would be unaffected.
A New York Times analysis found that 86 convictions against voter fraud were carried out by the department of Justice between 2002 and 2007. However, these are only on a Federal level, and the numbers of voter fraud convictions from each state can be higher or lower depending on the state.
“[The voter ID laws] are obviously just ways to disenfranchise certain parts of the population, keep certain people from voting, suppress voters. It’s usually people who have the hardest difficulty in getting an ID,” said Brian Burns, a freshman in the masters program for political science.
“I spent time registering voters [while] volunteering and some of the people I registered couldn’t see the form to write, they were elderly, they were blind, they didn’t have a car, they were legally blind and you’d have to fill out the forms for them.”
A bill in Texas that would require identification for voter registration was just struck down by federal courts. Both Governor Perry and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott have promised that they will appeal this ruling. A panel of three judges ruled that the bill would impose, “strict, unforgiving burdens” on the poor minority voters. This is the first time that a voter identification bill has been struck down.
Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, in a letter to the Courier-Journal, says that claims of voter suppression are wrong, “Most Kentuckians understand that a basic, fair requirement that voters show ID at the polls is crucial to protecting the integrity of our elections.”
Kentucky has not been one of the states at the center of this debate, and Kentucky’s laws pertaining to voter identification were passed in 2002.
To vote in Kentucky, some form of identification is required. This can be a driver’s license, social security card, credit card or an ID card with a picture and a signature. Aside from this, an election officer, who can confirm your identity, will also suffice for proper identification at the polls.
The Kentucky voter ID laws are considered to be middle of the road in terms of strictness for voter ID requirements, according to the NCSL, a bipartisan group committed to serving the interests of state legislatures.
Students may also be affected by the voter ID laws because they are unfamiliar with the voting process. Ashley Wimsett, a freshman in the masters of business program, was working for the U of L women’s center in the SAC and watched the county clerk’s office as they were signing up students to vote. She says many students didn’t know they had to vote in the county they were registered in.
“[The county clerk’s had to continuously tell students they had to change their address from their parent’s county,” said Wimsett.
Aside from changing their registered address, students can also use absentee ballots. U of L students who are from different counties will have to use absentee ballots if they do not return home to vote. In Kentucky, one must request an absentee ballot seven days before the election date and have the ballot mailed back before the end of the election.
U of L’s Student Government Association holds multiple registration drives before an election year. This is done to help students register to vote and help them understand their rights and responsibilities as a voter. This year SGA will hold two registration drives and one more with the Student Activities Board. The drives have not been scheduled yet.
Meghan Waters, junior political science and justice administration major and a political coordinator for SGA, says that they can answer questions from students who are registering to vote. “If this is their first time voting, we can certainly give them some tips and advice on what they should expect at the voting booth.”
The deadline to register to vote for the General election is October 9.
Gainous says that, in the end, the voter ID issue is mostly an issue created by politicians and fought for political gain.
“This is not a Republican/Democrat thing,” Gainous said. “Trust me, if the tides were turned and the rules were going to hurt Democrats, they’d be opposed too. ….both sides, they are going to make the choices that serve their utility.”
Photo courtesy BET.com