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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Parties clash over voting laws, even in 21st century

Published: January 27, 2012
Section: Front Page

Proposed voter ID laws serve as yet another source of controversy between the two political parties in an impending 2012 presidential election season. If enacted, states would require photo identification, full licenses or other technical documents before citizens are able to cast a ballot, raising concerns regarding fundamental constitutional principles and the desire to legitimize the voting process.

Proponents of the law argue measures must be implemented to protect against voter fraud. As mentioned in Reuters, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina stated, “If you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed, if you have to show a picture ID to get on a plane, you should have to show a picture ID to do that one thing that is so important to us, and that is the right to vote. This is common sense legislation.”

Scott Walker, GOP governor of Wisconsin, further defended the ethical need for such laws, claiming, “Whether it’s one case, a hundred cases or a hundred-thousand cases, making sure we have legislation that protects the integrity for an open, fair and honest election in every single case is important.”

The controversy, however, emerges as fears arise concerning the negative implications voter identification laws may bear upon voter turnouts. In particular, opponents adamantly proclaim that these new requirements serve as political strategies to target minority groups, the elderly and university students who may not have possession of photo identification, rendering them unable to cast a ballot. Those who do not possess a license, for instance, will need to acquire a state issued form of ID before being able to vote.

As reported in USA Today, Tanya Clay House, public policy director of Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, referenced historical racial turbulence, saying that “like the literacy laws and poll taxes of the past, modern day restrictive voter ID and felony disenfranchisement laws disproportionately affect people of color.”

Accompanying the requirement for photo identification, monetary politics are also involved. The poorest among us may not be able to acquire adequate funding to purchase ID, yet supplying state issued IDs to all those in need would result in the propagation of additional costs for the respective state.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, studies demonstrate “11 percent of voting-age American citizens—and an even greater percentage of African American, low-income and older citizens—do not have current and valid government-issued photo IDs.”

Within the last year, increased voter identification legislation has formed a substantial trend, igniting political debates between Democrats and Republicans. According to the National Conference of State Legislature, 31 states currently require voters to present a form of ID, and of these only 15 impose the need for photo identification. Only three states—Oregon, Vermont and Wyoming—still remain exceptions to this trend. States that do not currently require photo identification permit alternate documents, such as Social Security cards, U.S. passports and birth certificates, to suffice. Nevertheless, this trend signifies the recent burning debate spurred by voter identification legislation that will only continue to heighten in response to the approaching presidential election.

Bill Flynn ’15 voiced his concerns, saying that “college students and others who may not have an ID may not get the chance to vote and therefore we are limiting the diversity of our voting population. Everyone should be able to vote and this proposed legislation is just impeding the process.”

Students who possess a college address distinct from their hometown address may further face complications in the approaching 2012 election, as only one address is permitted to be displayed on state-issued ID.

The Department of Justice’s recent denial of South Carolina’s petition for pre-clearance of voter identification laws further heightens the controversy surrounding the legislation. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “The D.O.J. found the law discriminatory because the state’s minority voters are 20 percent more likely than white voters to lack a photo ID that meets the standard for voting.” Although South Carolina intends to pursue a reversal of the decision, it nonetheless jeopardizes the prospect of pre-clearance of voter ID laws in other states, such as Texas. These states, which demonstrate a history of discriminatory practices, must obtain pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the federal district court before being permitted to alter their voting laws.

In accordance with the beliefs of Democratic groups opposed to imposing these regulations, Flynn proclaims, “I don’t believe it should be a requirement for voters to provide an ID, because voting shouldn’t be a time-consuming and tedious process. If our country’s goal is to promote voting and democracy, this is definitely not a good idea.”