Ways Conservatives are (Maybe?) Wrong, Part 2: the vote police
Here’s part two of my “Ways Conservatives Might be Wrong” series. And why not? The installment on gay marriage wasn’t in the least a firestorm of clashing ideologies, was it? (cough!)
I should point out why I am doing this. I am a conservative, after all. But one of the things that most poisons any coalition of like-minded thinkers is group think. It is inevitable. People become so identified with their philosophy that it becomes a part of themselves. They cease to question it, and soon enough they begin swallowing its tenets whole, without ever pausing to chew on them a little.
Political ideologies are like families, though, and every family has a few crazy uncles. These are the noisy, opinionated ones that get sloppy drunk and spout half-baked conspiracies and embarrassing bigotries. The crazy uncles, unfortunately, are the only people that other families notice. There are two solutions for dealing with the crazy uncles: 1) you can carefully– and publicly– dissect their philosophies and acknowledge their flaws. Or 2) you can pit one family’s crazy uncle against another family’s crazy uncle and charge admission while they beat themselves to death with chairs.
This is how elections should be decided.
The following is my attempt to publicly examine one of those conservative issues that, to an outside observer, may look a bit like the ramblings of a drunken crazy uncle.
So first off, I admit that the idea of voters potentially needing to present a photo ID makes perfect sense to me. You need ID to do almost anything these days. It simply does not seem like it is placing an unfair burden on anyone.
So a few days ago, when I heard that Attorney General Eric Holder was launching a campaign to resist voter ID laws, I was strangely perplexed. Because as much as we political animals like to go on and on about the stupidity of politicians on the other side, I know that people who reach very high levels of government are generally not stupid. Look at George Dubya, the poster boy for the dummy politician: he reads more books per year than most Americans will read in a lifetime, which most of us agree is a sign of the better-than-rock-stupid. So when A. G. Holder publicly announced that voter ID laws unfairly targeted minorities, I knew he wasn’t just being stupid.
I did a little research.
Turns out that I, like most of us, assume that the way my life works is the way everybody’s life works. For me, the idea of not having a government-issued ID is akin to those dreams where you find yourself at school with no pants.
Or on the bridge of the Enterprise.
I need ID to drive my car, open a bank account and cash checks, use credit cards, and generally prove my identity in any number of situations (up to and including those unfortunate run-ins with the police when I really do forget to wear pants). To a typical white suburban goombah like me, photo ID is a foregone conclusion.
Turns out, though, a lot of Americans aren’t white suburban goombahs, and according to the actual statistics, a lot of them do not have photo IDs.
I had to ponder that for awhile, and it still sorta blows my mental gaskets. How does anyone get through life without an ID? I am, of course, assuming that these individuals are actual American citizens. Well, perhaps a lot of them are too poor to require bank accounts. Perhaps a lot of them live in cities where cars are impractical and unnecessary. Perhaps they are simply too old to drive. I don’t know, I sorta run out of ideas about it, but apparently the statistics are what they are: an unusually high amount of minorities simply do not have photo IDs.
Thus, if you take away all the distracting politics and debate about the necessity and reasonableness of voter ID laws, one uncomfortable fact remains: if those laws are put into effect, a large number of Americans will need to obtain photo IDs solely for the purpose of voting. In effect, voting will cost them money– money the Attorney General believes many of them do not have.
Now, admittedly, this is the same Attorney General who famously dismissed the Philadelphia voter intimidation case in which Black Panthers in military regalia wielded clubs outside a polling place, claiming that focus on the case demeaned “my people”.
“I HATE crackers! In my clam chowder. That’s all I’m here to say. Happy voting.”
The fact that there appears to be a rather preposterous degree of double standard in play doesn’t give conservatives an excuse to ignore the true ramifications of proposed voter ID laws.
Do we want to be responsible, even indirectly, for putting a roadblock– a surmountable roadblock, certainly, but a roadblock nonetheless– in front of any person’s right to vote?
I honestly don’t know. Here are the arguments.
On one hand, voter fraud is a real problem. Both sides blame the other for it, thus presumably both sides would be keenly interested in curbing it. Voter ID laws would undeniably go a very long way toward that goal. Seriously, this is 2012– not requiring proof of your identity to vote is preposterously casual for such an important privilege. It’s the equivalent of the tin can honor system for coffee refills (sorry, Kaldis, I keep meaning to drop a fiver in there someday). This was no better evidenced than when a random white dude was offered Attorney General Eric Holder’s vote.
If requiring ID to vote is anti-minority, how is the same not true for requiring ID to drive? Logically, the same people opposed to voter ID should also vigorously oppose driver’s license requirements, and for the same exact reasons. Seriously, you can’t even buy a six-pack without ID. Voting is as least as important as that, isn’t it?
On the other hand, voting IS important, and everybody should be able to do it without having to pay for the privilege. It is a simple fact that many Americans won’t be able to vote unless they fork over cash for a photo ID that they otherwise (somehow!) don’t need. Insisting vocally that they can all damn well grow up and get a life along with the rest of us is not only insensitive, its counterproductive. It proves the suspicion of many minorities that white Republicans would rather they just didn’t vote at all.
(the blank white space says it all)
So there has to be a better solution, right? As with the gay marriage issue, nobody is going to get everything they want. Perhaps requiring government-issue photo IDs is a bit too much to ask (I know, I know, it doesn’t seem like any big thing to a lot of us, but for a lot of people it apparently is). But it is also clearly ridiculous to leave something as sacred as voting to the honor system. Come on, we’re smart people! We can compromise on an inventive solution without just digging in our stubborn donkey (or elephant) heels and insisting on our way or the highway, right?
My wife, totally off the top of her head, suggested this: if you don’t have any ID when you go to vote, you just scan your fingerprint into a computer and go right ahead and vote. If anyone else presents a photo ID for that name, the original vote is nullified. If someone votes with an already scanned fingerprint, the original vote is nullified. Simple and elegant, right? It wouldn’t require anyone to buy an ID they don’t already have, and it would eliminate a lot of overt voter fraud. Seriously, all it would require is a temporary database for the fingerprints and some cheap biometric scanners for a laptop at each polling place.
Of course, eventually people would be screaming about invasion of privacy by having to scan their prints, or creating elaborate conspiracy theories about how the government was hoarding all those fingerprints to keep track of minorities, yadda yadda, blah blah. And who knows, it might even end up being true.
First the fingerprints. Then this. I’m not joking. Really!
The point is, we can all certainly come up with a functional solution without breaking everyone’s personal moral codes about creating roadblocks to voting and/or allowing the Powerpuff Girls to vote two hundred times in fifteen different states. We’re smarter and more creative than that. But first, we have to be willing to recognize the valid concerns of those on the other side and truly be willing to forge a meaningful compromise.
And not surprisingly, that’s exactly the same solution that we came up with for the whole gay marriage thing, too, right? Huh. Who’d a-thunk it?