Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale

Identify the Vote


“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” ―Oscar Wilde

I got my first card from the U.S. Department of Defense in 1999. I was far too young for whiskey or cigars, but it came in handy for occasional trips to the Commissary, the Post Exchange, my school, or even to get home. In 2001, the Department of State issued me a passport ahead of my family’s relocation to Germany. I used it to cross the English Channel and for a few international flights. By the time I got to Yale, which gave me yet another ID card, I had a driver’s license from the State of Florida (since traded for one from Virginia). Four IDs, one man. Guess I was popular with the bureaucrats.

In more than 30 states, new voting laws are stirring partisan rancor. Current and proposed requirements range from none—including some vetoed (e.g. N.C. & Minn.) or ruled unconstitutional (Wisc.)—to photo-optional to particularly strict photo standards in five states. The GOP claims to be preventing fraud it can hardly find; Democrats argue 750,000 voters will be unable to vote in Pennsylvania alone. Throughout the South—where Texas, Mississippi, Florida, and South Carolina are courting federal preclearance (as is New Hampshire)—the laws are being compared to Jim Crow, as many critics see a concerted effort to disenfranchise minorities and the poor. Nevertheless, most people favor voter ID laws. What ought a reasonable person to make of all this?

While I was growing up in the Army, the cards were free and ubiquitous, and they did what they were supposed to do. I doubt it’s feasible to standardize voting laws across the states, but two lessons from the military community seem broadly applicable:

1) It is reasonable to require reliable identification to access restricted activity.

1a) Voting is (supposed to be) a restricted activity and a fundamental right.

2) Reliable identification ought to be provided to anyone entitled access to some restricted activity.

Put simply, we should require IDs at the polls, and state governments should make sure all registered voters can attain IDs with reasonable ease or avoid the requirement. As it happens, many states, including Georgia and Virginia (both already precleared), already do this. I suppose some on the Left will nonetheless maintain that these laws persecute the poor and the brown among us. But while some concerns are reasonable and noted, the audacious claim that these common-sense checks are everywhere malignant strains credulity even more than Hank Johnson’s continued presence in Congress.

The expectation that registered voters acquire proper identification is no more cumbersome than requiring that they leave their houses in order to vote. If the response is that certain demographics will not read their mail or otherwise notice new laws—and thus be disproportionately harmed—then I wonder how we expect these people to know where to vote, let alone for what. After all, voting locations change and redistricting happens. Are we actually to believe a sizeable portion of the electorate is impervious to information? If so, to what end are we to move heaven and earth—and their unidentified souls—to drag such ignorance to the polls? And how are we to do so?

Then again, I don’t know anybody—young, old, black, white, poor, brown, or other—who completely lacks identification. I’m just a middle-class guy from the suburbs. What do I know?

Author: Rek

A gay Southern conservative with a fondness for God, guns, and gridiron. I'm a veritable pocket full of sunshine.

7 thoughts on “Identify the Vote

  1. But… what if there’s a big storm? I mean, it’s kind of just there.

  2. I actually think the (philosophically) conservative position is anti-ID law. Given that, as you note, there is no evidence that the system is currently broken, why attempt to fix it when we can easily imagine side effects that we dislike on principle (whether or not we dislike them in practice)?

    That said, I should also note that there’s good evidence that voter ID laws won’t affect the result of the current election one way or the other.

    • I disagree on the philosophical point. The funny thing about Voter ID laws is people (me included) overwhelmingly thought they already existed. Upon discovering they don’t, it’s not unreasonable to bring our actual laws into accord with our expectations of what they were to begin with. And while I don’t believe “preventative” action is always wise, some preemptive diligence–what we may call proactivity–is generally a good check against costly woes later.

      And thanks for the article! I added it to the post.

  3. Totally late comment, but this is actually pretty problematic. Take for instant seniors. In Georgia the ID must be current (not expired) to count. I know quite a few seniors who have stopped driving and let their licenses lapse, but have been able to vote because the poll workers in the community know them. New Georgia ID laws change this. Not to mention Georgia has simultaneously implemented laws that require you to go to the DMV to renew your license instead of renewing online, like people have done for years. This clearly disadvantages those who can’t afford to take off of work to go to the DMV.

    Also, I recently moved to Nevada and lost my wallet after being here for a few months. It took almost a couple weeks to get new IDs and things. I can only imagine what that would be like for someone who didn’t have easy access to their documents like I did (my mom keeps everything locked in a safe). Imagine if that happens just before an election. Do you forfeit your right to vote because of a mistake? These are just a couple of anecdotes of things I’ve personally seen. There are definitely other plausible situations. I guess I’m just saying what seems common sense and reasonable from a middle class background can be problematic for/unfair to the less advantaged.

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