Friday, November 26, 2010

Must I be a Citizen to Vote? (Part II)

Statue of Thomas Jefferson inside the Jefferson Memorial. ©USDA

In America, people can vote in our elections without being a citizen of the United States.

In an earlier post, I noted how under current law (The National Voter Registration Act) you are required to state you are a citizen, but not required to prove you are a citizen.

Our newly elected Secretary of State in Colorado (Republican Scott Gessler) wants to change this. He thinks it will add integrity to the voting process if proof of citizenship is required when an individual registers to vote.

Cue the cultural furor. People are up in arms!

People are agitated today, but it’s worth noting that our Founding Fathers would have taken Scott’s side of the argument. Two hundred years ago, in a letter to his son-in-law John Wayles Eppes, Thomas Jefferson addressed the philosophical issue:
“No government can be maintained without the principle of fear as well as duty. Good men will obey the last, but bad ones the former only. If our government ever fails, it will be from this weakness.”
If Thomas Jefferson (in 1814) saw the necessity to put “teeth” in our principles, why is this no longer important?

The Denver Post editorializes about proof of citizenship: “That's a debate worth having, but we would have to be convinced that such a requirement wouldn't prove too burdensome.” The Post further expands on the issue by printing two “Letters to the Editor”:

Overly burdensome ID requirements block eligible voters from participating without solving any real problem. Colorado’s County Clerks Association has testified that there are no known instances of voter fraud in Colorado in recent years. Although most Americans have government-issued photo ID, studies show that as many as 12 percent of eligible voters nationwide do not; the percentage is even higher for seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, and low-income voters. Many citizens find it hard to get such IDs, because the underlying documentation required is often difficult to come by.

Secretary-elect Scott Gessler’s interest in proof of citizenship laws is misguided and will cost the state much in terms of resources and unjustified barriers to the ballot box. As this issue is debated, proponents of these burdensome requirements must demonstrate the requirements are worth the harms they cause, a tough task given the lack of evidence of fraud.

Jenny Flanagan, Executive Director, Colorado Common Cause

Efforts to require photo ID and proof of citizenship do nothing other than keep voters from engaging in our elections. In fact, Colorado is one of the most difficult states in which to obtain a photo ID.

There is a special project in Colorado funded by local foundations that has annually assisted about 3,900 people each year for the last three years. These individuals lack IDs and/or birth certificates and other documents needed to obtain picture IDs. Many more people who need such assistance often have to be turned away because the project lacks sufficient funding and staffing to serve them all. Many of these are elderly, disabled and/or homeless.

Voting is a sacred right in our country. Experience has shown that thousands of Coloradans would be pushed out of the voting process if these onerous requirements became law.

Nan Morehead, Centennial
And so, proving you are a citizen of the United States is “burdensome.” It harms the disadvantaged and creates an “onerous requirement” that pushes people out of the voting process. If you think proving citizenship should be a requirement for registering to vote, you are clearly mean-spirited.

What’s wrong with this picture? Are there other areas where proving you are qualified is “burdensome?” Must an airline pilot be licensed? How about Medical Doctors having to prove their qualifications? Is it too burdensome to prove you are authorized to carry a concealed weapon?

Why is it not enough to simply allow a person to state he or she is a citizen? Maybe it’s that vexing issue of Moral Hazard.

When we allow people to acquire mortgage loans by simply “stating” their assets and income, and then package these loans as being “underwritten,” is there an integrity issue? Does it not make a difference if the borrower has to prove what is stated in the application?

All good questions, but the fact remains that the only place where it is “burdensome” to provide the sufficient and necessary proof of your status is in registering to vote. Why is this?

We’ll cut to the chase: If everybody who finds it difficult to prove citizenship were inclined to vote for Republicans, the “onerous” and “burdensome” requirement would disappear in a heartbeat. Those who had trouble would immediately lose their disadvantaged status and be characterized as “dangerous people” who are bent on “shredding the Constitution.”

Does the refrain sound familiar?

UPDATE 11/29/2010:
Linked by Left Coast Rebel!

UPDATE 1/28/2011:
Nancy Lofholm in the Denver Post links Republicans to xenophobia!  Note the use of the words "fear" and "scare" in the lead paragraph and the idea that Republicans are harming the disadvantaged.  A legislative matter is being reported, but it is pretty clear who our culture believes is wearing "the black hats."

UPDATE 2/25/2011:
While this post is related to proving citizenship when registering to vote, another contentious issue is proving a voter's identity at the voting booth.  Jennifer Rubin points to court decisions in Georgia and Indiana on photo ID bills.  These courts find that, "There thus are no plaintiffs whom the law will deter from voting."  In stark contrast, our culture adamantly holds to exactly the opposite view: These laws will exclude regular people (non-Republicans) from exercising their right to vote.

UPDATE 3/31/2011:
The Colorado Department of State has released a report on this issue dated March 8, 2011.  This is the first paragraph from the report's summary:
The [Colorado] Department of Revenue shows 211,200 people who used a non-citizen credential to obtain a driver’s license or identification card. Comparing these names to the statewide voter database shows that 11,805 are currently registered to vote in Colorado. Of the 11,805 registrants, 4,214 voted in the 2010 election.
UPDATE 5/23/2011:
Kris Kobach, the Secretary of State of Kansas, writes in The Wall Street Journal about the Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act.  Signed into law in Kansas last month,  it requires proof of citizenship for newly registered voters, driver's license signature verification of absentee voters, and a photo ID to be presented when voting.

Similar measures are being considered (or are already in place) in Texas, Missouri, Georgia, Indiana, Arizona and Wisconsin.  It will be interesting to follow the court challenges to these initiatives.

UPDATE 6/16/2011:
Keesha Gaskins, writing for the Brennan Center for Justice, responds to Kris Kobach.  She characterizes her article as "debunking misinformation" and comments on five separate points made by Secretary Kobach.

It is interesting to note the frame of reference Ms. Gaskins uses in making her argument.  Her concluding sentence in the piece tells us that taking action to protect voting rights is "un-American."  She sees the act of protecting voting rights as "giving the government the power to block citizens from voting."

I think we need a reward posted for any American citizen of voting age without a photo ID who will come forward and claim that he or she will not vote because it is too burdensome to acquire the necessary ID.  Will the Brennan Center take the lead on this?  This is a list the Brennan Center must compile - as a public service!

Where is Andrew Breitbart when we need him?

UPDATE 6/22/2011:
James Taranto, writing in The Wall Street Journal Best of the Web Today makes this interesting point:

Today railroads and hotels, along with almost all providers of public accommodations in almost all circumstances, are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race. So what happens when you ride on Amtrak, the government-subsidized railroad? You hear an announcement over the PA system advising you to be prepared to show your identification if the conductor asks to see it.

Likewise, these days there is a good chance you will be asked for identification when you check into a hotel. You need ID to board an airplane or to drive a car. Recently we visited a doctor whose office is in a hospital. Just to enter the premises, we needed to present ID to a security guard.

If black people have trouble producing identification, how come nobody ever claims that these requirements are discriminatory?

UPDATE 1/11/2012:
James O'Keefe at Project Veritas shows how easy it is to vote as a dead person in New Hampshire, a state not requiring voter identification.  As he notes on his site, "More to come..."

UPDATE 2/3/2012:
A reporter for WBBH-TV in Fort Myers, Florida discovers nearly 100 non-citizens who vote.

UPDATE 2/7/2012:
James O'Keefe shows how to register voters in Minnesota. (h/t InstaPundit)

UPDATE 8/5/2012:
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler writes an opinion piece for the Denver Post that updates us on Colorado's work to remove non-citizens from the voiting rolls.  It's reflective of our culture that this information is considered "opinion."

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