Why Voter ID Laws betray our Founding Principles

Now, I’m not the one to invoke the phrase “founding principles”, especially when I talk about the Constitution (I don’t believe in strict constitutional originalism). However, when talking about the American Revolution, I’m a little bit more comfortable. Leading up to the American Revolution, there truly were a few basic ideas that drove the conflict. While the exact nature of these ideas might be hard to pinpoint, they can be seen throughout American literature, newspapers, pamphlets, and other mediums of communication and were embraced by a majority of the American people. One of those ideas is representation of the people based on popular election.

The word democracy was used in an unusual way during the Enlightenment era. It was either used in contempt, e.g. Madison’s Federalist Paper 10 had this to say about “pure” democracy:

From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.

Or it was used in conjunction with the words monarchy and aristocracy, as an essential part of a mixed constitution. However, despite this confusion of terms, Americans held dear the right to vote:

Actual representation had more than constitutional importance for American politics. It had social significance as well. Even before the Revolutionary turmoil settled, some Americans, as we have seen, began arguing that mere voting my ordinary men was not a sufficient protection of ordinary men’s interests if only members of the elite continued to be the ones elected. It was coming to be thought that in a society of diverse and particular interests, men from one class or group, however educated and respectable, could no be aquatinted with the needs and interests of other classes and groups. Wealthy college-educated lawyers or merchants could not know the concerns of poor farmers or small tradesmen. As we have seen, the logic of actual representation required that ordinary men be represented by ordinary men, indeed by men of the same religion, ethnic group, or occupation.

While the story of voting rights in America has been far from perfect (do I even need to talk about women?) and these egalitarian ideas were at odds with the rationale of slavery, it was these thoughts that conceived the Revolution. Although the bumpy history of voting rights has been tough, we have finally reached something that comes close to equal suffrage:

Despite an electorate that at times seems apathetic, interest in suffrage and in the equality of consent has never been greater than it has over the past generation. Such a concern naturally puts on a terrific burden on our political system, but it is a burden we should gladly bear (and many other nations would love to have it), for it bespeaks an underlying popular confidence in the process of politics that surfaces events and news headlines tend to obscure.

So why do we need voter ID laws? The answer is, we don’t. It’s clear the allegations about voter fraud are at best extremely exaggerated and that these laws will disproportionately affect the poor and minorities. Voter ID laws ultimately amount to an arbitrary barrier to voting for particular social groups. There is no other rhyme or reason to it.

Now, I’m not going to speculate that the Republicans and Conservatives who support these laws are racists or nefarious individuals, that would be irresponsible and stupid. But I find it ironic that the political party that claims they act in the tradition of America’s founding principles and that liberals don’t understand these principles tend to ignore this bit of American history and tradition. It’s quite funny to say the least.

References:

1. Wood, Gordon S. The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States. New York: Penguin, 2011. Print.

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About rousseau1214

My real name is Alex Lenchner and I'm a student at Georgia Tech. I'm currently studying Industrial Engineering, but I've always loved to read books on economics. My current interests involve the Institutional School, but I'm still a student and I'm open to new ideas. I also like to write about history, sociology, and whatever else.
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11 Responses to Why Voter ID Laws betray our Founding Principles

  1. VoterID4Life says:

    This is nonsense. Getting an ID is very easy, and in practice everyone needs one for daily life. It is not a meaningful barrier or burden, and could be justified by any infinitesimally likely voter fraud. The cost to a state is relevant only to that state’s government on a purely budgetary basis.

    If you want to let felons or non citizens vote, or let people vote multiple times, then you can try to change those laws. Institutionalizing voter fraud is not a legitimate answer to any concern. That minorities are more likely to fall under the former two groups does not make either the suffrage laws or the enforcement thereof racist.

    Also, it is ridiculous to say it violates our founding principles, which allowed nearly complete state control of elections, and historically limited suffrage to a great degree.

    • rousseau1214 says:

      You pretty much asserted yourself throughout your entire argument.

      1. There is plenty of empirical evidence (Here’s some examples: http://www.ncjw.org/media/PDFs/PTV2012/PTVVoterID7312.pdf and http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/press/press-releases/voter-id-laws-pose-unique-barriers-and-possible-disenfranchisement-for-over-25000-transgender-voters/) that IDs are barriers to vote. Whether or not they are “meaningful” (a subjective and baseless term, at least the way you use it) is irrelevant.

      2. Institutionalizing voter fraud is not a legitimate answer to any concern. A complete non sequitur and baseless claim. Being against Voter ID isn’t institutionalizing voter fraud, it’s upholding the principle of voting rights. And I said before, voter fraud isn’t a serious problem in election that warrants implementing an arbitrary system.

      3. You never addressed the essence of the post. I clearly said that:

      While the story of voting rights in America has been far from perfect (do I even need to talk about women?) and these egalitarian ideas were at odds with the rationale of slavery, it was these thoughts that conceived the Revolution.

      Limited suffrage doesn’t take away from the fact that voting and representation were ideas with popular backing. Yes there has been limited suffrage, but that doesn’t really take away from this as Gordon Wood pointed out in the quote I provided. Thinking about this is legal terms is misguided and wrong in this case.

      • VoterID4Life says:

        Your “evidence” is bizarre. All they do is point out that many trannies don’t have updated IDs. No evidence that they can’t vote using their old ID with their real sex or that they are unable to get a new one. Considering that they spent thousands on mutilating their genitals, they have enough for a new ID. And at any rate, this is a sex change issue not a voter ID issue.

        It is incredibly easy to get an ID, and it is also necessary for daily life. This might as well be the color of the sky in question.

      • rousseau1214 says:

        The second link was merely there to provide an example of how voter IDs can disenfranchise people. But since you’re not convinced, here’s some more evidence:

        http://brennan.3cdn.net/2232d41548789ffdf6_9km6b4d67.pdf

        http://faculty.washington.edu/mbarreto/research/Voter_ID_APSA.pdf

        You also ignored the links that I provided in the post.

        The fact that an ID is “incredibly easy to get” (which isn’t even entirely true, as it ignores structural and administrative barriers to getting IDs) is completely irrelevant and ignores the entire point of my argument.

      • VoterID4Life says:

        What? If an ID is easy to get, it isn’t a barrier to voting. What is your entire point, if not that ID laws prevent people from voting who should be able to?

        None of your evidence is remotely convincing. So people live 10 miles from the ID office? That means they need to find a way to travel 10 miles once time in a decade. Is that actually a “burden” in your mind? Do you imagine any functional human being is unable to do that, and still maintains any desire or capability for voting?

      • rousseau1214 says:

        Now you’re just being ignorant.

        1. I oppose it on principle
        2. Voter ID is still a barrier to voting, you haven’t provided any counter evidence to the contrary. You instead nitpicked on aspect of the Brennan report and ignored the rest. You didn’t even get the report right either.

        -It also talked about people that live more than 10 miles away, which can range from 10 miles to just about anything. Even if you only consider 5-10 percent of people in that group (people that live 50-60 miles away. Note: this isn’t an exact number but a useful approximation to get a general picture), that’s still a lot of people.
        -You ignore limited access to offices
        -You ignore lack of transportation options to those offices

        Combine these factors and you get some problems.

        And you continue to ignore the other evidence I’ve provided in the post and other study I gave you which provides a lot of evidence from other studies.

  2. VoterID4Life says:

    1. What principle? People should not have to prove they are who they say they are when they vote? Is that your principle?
    2. Voter ID is not a barrier if getting an ID is not a barrier. Considering how common and mundane a thing that is, the burden is on someone else to make a case that it is actually difficult.

    I’m not ignoring any of his stuff. All of it (including what you mentioned) is totally unconvincing in any rational sense. In summary, a person has to make their way to a dmv office, a single time. How can that be difficult for a functioning human being? It’s just ridiculous.

    • rousseau1214 says:

      1. The principle that one should have a right to vote without some arbitrary barrier getting into the way? That thing that Americans fought for all through the 18th century? Come on, study some history.

      2. You continue to ignore the evidence in favor of your “awww shucks!” common sense. But as any thoughtful person would admit, common sense is a terrible way to analyze the world and the underlying institutional factors that influence it everyday.

      If you live 50-60 miles from the nearest office that you can get an ID (the DMV or whatever else) with no access to private transportation, then yes its hard to get an ID. That’s sadly the case for a lot of people about (450,000) as the Brennan report says.

      You again ignore the other empirical evidence I provided. These reforms affect voter turnouts in a bad way, that much is clear. Just because it doesn’t fit your preconceived notion of “rationality” (and again, you use the term in a vague and useless way) doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. If you continue to assert your nonsense and have nothing new to add, I’m deleting your next comment.

    • rousseau1214 says:

      God, this argument is so stupid that I have to comment further.

      1. You rely on a “common sense” version of reality, which is garbage. I provided empirical date against this, but you’re so ingrained in your nonsense that you just ignore it. I can also easily construct an example where going to the DMV (which wouldn’t even be the place where you would get these IDs) would be extremely difficult for a poor person. For example:

      Let’s say that a poor person lives 50-60 miles from the nearest office that you can get an ID and has no access to private transportation. Then let’s say that he/she works 2 jobs (at minimum wage) 6-7 time a week in order to make a living and barely scrape by. How is this person going to get to the required office on any given notice? Also consider that they states analyzed have terrible public transportation systems and that these offices would only be open for a limited amount of time (from about 9 a.m to 5 or 6 p.m on weekdays, similar to the DMV) It’s just not going to happen. Now apply this across the nation. You’re going to get a decent number of people that fit into this category.

      2. Voter ID is a barrier to voting. You didn’t even bother to read the paper, Voter ID Requirements and the Disenfranchisements of Latino, Black and Asian Voters, which clearly lays out multiple empirical studies that prove that Voter ID does effect voter turnout. So you’re reasoning is extremely flawed and is completely at odds with the evidence. So what’s left of your “analysis”? Nothing, that’s what.

      • VoterID4Life says:

        Your scenario is nonsensical as well. How does someone who cannot transport themselves or find any time at any point in their life get two jobs. Nevermind how they got those jobs, or do anything else, without any identification. Or how they could possibly make a competent political decision.

        Voter ID is supposed to effect turn out. Specifically, it is supposed to prevent non-eligible voters.

        None of those articles do anything to show that voter ID significant prevents voting. Being associated with lower voter turnout, even if it is true, does no mean anyone who should be voting was actively prevented from doing so. That certain groups are more likely to say they don’t have various kind of ID does not mean that either.

      • rousseau1214 says:

        How does someone who cannot transport themselves or find any time at any point in their life get two jobs.

        It called public transportation within a limited area. Or some people just walk. Plenty of people in cities and rural areas don’t have access to private transportation either because they can’t afford it or they don’t need it.

        Nevermind how they got those jobs, or do anything else, without any identification.

        11% of Americans don’t have government issued photo IDs (http://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/d/download_file_39242.pdf). Many of these people either don’t have jobs (Because they don’t need jobs e.g. the elderly) or don’t need a photo ID to get jobs because they can use some other form of identification. Voter IDs will specifically affect this very large group of people. If you even bothered to look at any statistical study, you would know this.

        Or how they could possibly make a competent political decision.

        I would love to know your standard for “competent political decision”. Like most of the stuff you say, it is probably arbitrary nonsense.

        Voter ID is supposed to effect turn out. Specifically, it is supposed to prevent non-eligible voters.

        Now I know you are just being stupid. Of course IDs will affect turnout is some negative way, but that wasn’t what I was talking about. I was talking about the people that are eligible to vote and are discouraged/blocked from voting because of Voter ID.

        None of those articles do anything to show that voter ID significant prevents voting

        Did you even bother to read them? Based on this comment, I doubt you did. Here’s a short bit that disproves your assertion:

        Finally, older voters are more likely to have a driver’s license. So overall, our bivariate results indicate that individuals who are racial and ethnic minorities, foreign-born, of a lower socioeconomic status, and are younger all are less likely to have a driver’s license. This is critical to our discussion, as a driver’s license is the primary valid form of identification accepted for voting

        This will affect voter turnout in a negative way even though most of these people are eligible voters. And here’s another study:

        These estimates first indicate that indeed, voter identification requirements do not have a simple linear effect on the likelihood that a voter participates. In addition, we see that the stricter requirements — requirements more than merely presenting a nonphoto identification card — are significant negative burdens on voters

        Being associated with lower voter turnout, even if it is true, does no mean anyone who should be voting was actively prevented from doing so.

        Again, just bare assertions from you. It happens, I showed you the evidence. They looked at populations that have many more eligible voters relative to non-eligible ones. They even considered voter confidence indexes. When you consider voter fraud, many more eligible people that would have voted are blocked from voting when compared to all the cases of voter fraud. Even when you consider all the cases of voter fraud, it’s debatable whether or not voter IDs would prevent many of them. As for as I’m concerned, this discussion is over.

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