The National Catholic Review
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About a dozen nuns in their 80s and 90s from the convent of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary in South Bend, Ind., arrived at their polling place in May only to be told that they could not cast ballots in that state’s primary election. Why? They did not have acceptable photo identification. Indiana now has the strictest of all voter identification laws, a matter of concern to civil rights advocates who believe that laws like Indiana’s are excluding otherwise eligible voters from exercising one of the most basic rights of U.S. citizens.

Laws of this kind primarily affect low-income people, the elderly, people with disabilities and racial minorities. Under the Indiana statute, voters must present at the polls a government-issued document with a photo, like a driver license or passport—documents that many of the people in these categories can obtain only with difficulty or not at all. Although Indiana’s Department of Motor Vehicles provides a free photo I.D. card for nondrivers, one needs an original birth certificate to obtain it, and this is in itself a significant hurdle for some.

The stated purpose of the Indiana statute is to prevent people from casting a ballot in another’s name or under an assumed name. But there has been virtually no evidence of this type of fraud in Indiana in recent decades. Neverthe-less, in the case Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the U.S. Supreme Court in late April upheld the Indiana law’s requirement of a government-issued photo I.D. as a condition for voting. That decision opens the way for other states to adopt equally restrictive laws. Over a dozen are considering similar measures that, if not calling for a photo I.D., would require proof of citizenship. Missouri was on the verge of passing an amendment to its state constitution to this effect, but the bill failed to pass in mid-May.

Such requirements are clearly aimed at illegal immigrants. These people, however, are among those least likely to attempt to vote. With current anti-immigrant sentiment stronger than ever, and as states and localities pass ever more stringent laws affecting employers and landlords who rent out rooms and apartments, those without papers prefer to remain in the shadows rather than risk arrest, incarceration and deportation by attempting to vote.

Not all the Supreme Court justices agreed with the decision upholding the Indiana law. As Justice David Souter put it in his dissenting opinion, which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also signed, “The interest in combating voter fraud has too often served as a cover for unnecessarily restrictive electoral rules.” The executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, Michael Waldman, has said that laws like Indiana’s “invariably are crafted to impact the poor, minorities, the elderly and others who simply lack the required photo I.D.”

Also disturbing are efforts to restrict voter registration drives. On behalf of the League of Women Voters in Florida, the Brennan Center filed a federal lawsuit over Florida’s restrictions on voter registration groups.

Even more troubling is a directive by the U.S. secretary of veterans affairs, James B. Peake, on May 5 banning nonpartisan voter registration drives at federally financed nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and shelters for homeless veterans. The department contends that such drives are disruptive to patient care, and also argues that the drives violate the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal workers from taking part in partisan political activities. But as Connecticut’s secretary of state, Susan Bysiewicz, pointed out, registering people to vote is not a partisan activity. Congress is considering bills that would require the V.A. to repeal the ban, but they must be signed into law before Oct. 1 if they are to have any effect on the 2008 election.

At the very least, restrictive voting and registration laws are sure to cause confusion at the polls and deter many from even attempting to cast a ballot. Yet surely one goal of any election regulation in the United States should be to encourage as many eligible voters as possible to go to their local polling stations in one of the nation’s most important participatory processes.

Electronic voting poses another problem, because it is susceptible to malfunctioning and fraudulent activity. In early July, the elections supervisor of Palm Beach County in Florida apologized because machines there failed to count 14 percent of the votes in a city commission election. Electronic voting also makes possible vote-stealing. The danger of voter fraud could be reduced by paper trails for electronic voting, backed by audits to uncover errors.

After two presidential elections that were tainted with allegations of voter fraud, the upcoming November presidential election has special significance. Given the pre-eminence of the United States in global affairs, not only U.S. citizens, but people around the world are waiting to see how fairly the 2008 presidential election will be conducted.

Comments

John | 8/29/2008 - 9:42am
Having to present an ID is "harsh"? You know, I have to say that it's been a while since I voted in person, having been living at an out-of-state school and then overseas, and I'm surprised that at this day and age there are districts where it's NOT required. You say you're concerned about voter fraud "tainting" two elections (gee I wonder where you came up with that one). Be honest with yourselves--Which is more likely to lead to fraud: draconian requirements that you ACTUALLY CARRY AN ID or showing up and being told "I'm sorry, Mr Smith, it says here you've already voted"?
Mary Barr | 8/26/2008 - 11:01pm
Concerns that "dead" people are voting is truly a concern. However, I am aware that in St. Louis we supposedly have a system that works to check some of this happening--I came to know this when I worked for an agency which was following up on verifying names/addresses for people who signed up to vote for the upcoming election. The duplicates were checked several times by several people--there were some names found while I worked there, which was only for one day as a temp worker--I was called in to work on this project which apparently had been going on for several months. At the end of the day some of us were informed that we were no longer needed and that those who would stay knew the ins/outs of the next steps that needed to be taken to straighten the records. I think it is very sad that so many of our older adults and other people who do not have transportation and the funds to get the paperwork done for such a law passed by Indiana. Fortunately, Missouri has not yet succeeded in getting this in our state, although it has been proposed but not yet succeeded. It is a waste of state monies that could be used for education and other necessities which are being cut.
John McShane | 8/26/2008 - 8:05pm
The Church has rules and the State has rules. Render to Caesar....... Boy Scout motto...Be Prepared. This hasn't been a secret has it? The debate has been in the courts, not behind a curtain.
MICHAEL COLLINS MR/MRS | 8/26/2008 - 3:45pm
I should read the law I guess, but based upon what is presented in your editorial, I don't have a problem with a requirement for a photo ID to be allowed to vote in a National or State election. If people don't know where they are born or aren't capable of applying for a photo ID (even when help is available to them to do so) do we really want them voting for the leader of this nation?
Vince Zahornasky | 8/25/2008 - 6:51pm
Surely you jest. You think it is more important to risk having your vote cancelled by a dead person, out of state voter, illegal etc., than to conduct honest elections. If a person wants to vote but is too lazy to get an ID card, well so be it. There are many people who are available to assist people in obtaining an ID. My supposition is that most election fraud occurs in the cities, and who controls the cities? Liberals and democrats. Prove me wrong.
Robert Campbell | 8/25/2008 - 4:18pm
In fairness, United States citizens only should be allowed to vote for federal offices, for statewide offices, and district legislative representatives. I think we can agree on that. However, all residents in a village/city should be allowed to vote on those local issues that impact them greatly, citizen or not. This is my suggestion. Separate the various elections, having local elections at other times than state and federal elections. Then, make it mandatory that a resident of a village/city must register at the city hall, at which time of registration they will have to prove who they are. They will need to present their passport, or resident card, or birth certificate to prove or establish citizenship/non-citizenship. They will also need to establish that they live in that adminstrative unit, village/city. The current living address will be recorded. Anytime the resident wants to do anything, such as open up an energy account, or start a telephone, or take a job, they will be asked by the energy firm, the communications firm, or the prospective employer to send them a printout from their city hall proving who they are. They will then need to go to the city hall and get them to send it to the proper address. Everyone then will instantly and correctly know who they are dealing with. In addition, at the time of election, the city hall will send out a card that must be brought to the polling booth so that the bearer can vote. For local elections, non citizen residents will also get a card and be able to vote. For State or Federal elections, non-citizen residents will not get a card; they cannot vote. I am sure this will remove all problems, since this is the system used in the Netherlands, and it works very well.
Patrick Flynn | 8/25/2008 - 3:41pm
What nonsense! Voting is a privelege for citizens, of the proper age who, in most states, are also not felons. Get an ID if you want to vote! And don't hide behind specious arguments, especially when everyone knows the Democrats desire voting by illegals, criminals and those under age because it will help their cause.
drk | 8/25/2008 - 3:02pm
Want to vote, get a picture! Hard, no!
Jim Belna | 8/25/2008 - 3:01pm
I have to agree that Indiana has imposed an almost IMPOSSIBLE BURDEN on citizens who want to to vote. It's a wonder that anyone can vote at all! Just think of all of the hurdles they have thrown up at us: First, you have to get an official photo id, like a driver's license (I understand that not only do you have to get one of these if you want to vote, you even have to get one if you want to DRIVE in Indiana!) As your editorial astutely points out, the DMV will insist on seeing an official copy of your birth certificate before they issue a photo ID. Good luck with that! Do you have any idea how hard it is to get an official birth certificate? First, you have to know WHEN and WHERE you were born! Who has the time to track down that kind of information? Second, you have to ask the county clerk to make a copy and send it to you, which doesn't sound too bad until you find out that you have to FILL OUT A FORM and maybe even PAY A SMALL FEE! As a final outrage, you have to bring your photo ID with you when you vote - as if people in Indiana ROUTINELY CARRY their Driver's Licenses and ID cards around with them! Thank you, AMERICA magazine, for your courageous advocacy on behalf of people who don't have photo ids and can't figure out how to get them. It's high time that they had a voice, and AMERICA is just the magazine to speak for them.
David Smith | 8/23/2008 - 11:48pm
The issue, of course, is the definition of "reasonable precautions". The tug of war is always between convenience and security. There will always be abuses, both of the voting system and of the regulatory apparatus. The best one can do is to strike the proper balance, not allowing either extreme to grab the upper hand. Indiana has failed to grasp that, to its discredit.
Jim Collins | 8/23/2008 - 5:02pm
Your article on the Indiana voting laws easily dismisses the issue of people voting illegaly. In 2006 The City of Detroit had more people on the voting list eligible to vote than were people living in the city. If that is Detroit you can imagine what it is like in Chicago and other cities where ACORN is active. I will take your concerns more seriously when you get equally upset about those voting for dead people falsely representing themselves.
Dolores Hayden | 8/22/2008 - 10:05pm
The League of Women Voters a non partisan organization in Kalamazoo, Michigan did something about this. They complained that this was an outrage to not allow our Veterans who fought for their country and are now hospitalized to not be allowed to be registered to vote. Now the League is going to be registering the Veterans to vote in the Veterans hospital in Battle Creek.

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