“Sorry, sir, but we have to card everybody,” said the checkout clerk at the supermarket.
You can imagine my surprise at hearing that when I tried to buy a six-pack of beer, along with my other groceries. I will be 79 in October, but I happily produced my driver’s license. For a second, I thought maybe I didn’t look 78, but I knew better.
The whole point of telling you this story is to emphasize the fact I had no problem producing a photo ID to prove I was over 21. And that is why I can’t understand the furor over having to produce similar proof to vote. Isn’t the sacredness of our right to vote at least worth that simple task?
Louisiana requires a photo ID to vote. It can be a state driver’s license, a special state identification card or any other generally recognized picture ID card.
Individuals without such proof can still vote by signing a voter identification affidavit that says they are registered. Once they provide their mother’s maiden name and date of birth, their eligibility is documented and the vote is counted.
The affidavit feature has made it possible for Louisiana to survive challenges of its photo ID requirement. Some states requiring a photo ID don’t offer that alternative.
Black public officials and commentators have been quick to condemn voter ID laws as a subterfuge to deny blacks, the elderly, the poor and other minorities the right to vote. Their contention is that those groups don’t have easy access to state-issued photo ID cards.
Sybil Morial, 79, of New Orleans talked with Gannett News about the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.
“Now, 50 years later, we’re having to face the same thing … They’re trying to erode our voting rights again.”
Artur Davis, a former black congressman from Alabama, told Gannett there is no connection between voter ID laws and voter-suppression methods used in the 1960s.
“It’s not some kind of a weapon or club that Southern sheriffs used to use to keep people from voting or participating,” Davis said. “It’s a tiny little photo ID.”
Supporters of ID laws insist they are necessary to protect against voter fraud, but opponents insist there isn’t enough fraud to justify the requirement.
“… There’s no fraud to eliminate,” Eugene Robinson, a writer for the Washington Post, said in a July column. He did say a Justice Department investigation resulted in 86 convictions for voter fraud in 2007. However, he said most violators involved felons or immigrants who may not have known they were ineligible to vote. Photo ID wouldn’t have stopped those individuals from voting, Robinson said.
Some public officials who want to require photo IDs to vote may have devious intentions, but most supporters simply want to protect the integrity of the process.
To say there is never any intentional voter fraud is a presumption on Robinson’s part. How does he know that? The Louisiana Secretary of State’s office told The Advocate in mid-July it had received more than 200 complaints about a national Democrat-leaning group’s registration effort that included mailings to dead people and other ineligible voters.
The Voter Participation Center of Washington, D.C., said it had distributed some five million registration forms in various states. It targets those same groups that claim photo IDs discriminate against them.
Angie Rogers, state elections commissioner, said persons calling in complaints are asking why they are receiving the voter registration forms. They are saying things like, “Why is this in my daughter’s name? She is 2 years old. Why did my husband, who died 30 years ago, get this?”
The VPC was flippant in its response to questions, saying people who shouldn’t get the registration forms should just throw them away.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler said the group’s failure to do its job well “opens up the door to voter fraud.”
Louisiana’s registration and voting system is a model that other states should follow. However, there is one obstacle that needs to be corrected, because it can hinder the right of some people to vote. It costs from $18 to $21 to obtain a special state identification card for non-drivers and it has to be renewed every four years. That is too expensive for some people, and four-year renewals add to the burden.
The card should be free, but certainly not as expensive as it is under current law. And why renew it every four years?
Better still, why not come up with a system that gives those individuals an inexpensive or free photo ID card when they register to vote? Modern technology makes that a relatively simple process. Voters already receive a precinct card when they register, so why not add a picture to the card, at least for those who don’t have driver’s licenses?
Some officials will argue that is too much of a burden to place on registrars of voters, but that is exactly what happens when individuals get their first driver’s license or renew one. Citizens are required to produce photo IDs on many occasions, and it isn’t too much to ask in order to protect the legitimacy of voting.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 337-494-4025 or [email protected].