“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?