Last week, Circuit Judge Tim Fox chose to strike down Arkansas’s controversial Voter ID Law that required every voter to produce a state issued photo ID in order to vote. The law stated that if someone showed up to vote without an ID, they would be allowed to vote but would need to produce an ID within a week of the election for the vote to count. However, the law did not have any sort of provision about cases of absentee ballots that were submitted without an ID or a photo copy of the ID. Critics argued that this loophole could lead to countless absentee ballots being tossed out, despite being perfectly legitimate votes. Additionally, there were worries that those who forgot their ID when they voted in person would forget to submit an ID within the seven days following the vote.
These were just the complaints specifically regarding to the Arkansas Law, not even touching on the national claims that Voter ID Laws disenfranchise the elderly, the poor, and minorities in any state. Many elderly folks may be unable to produce a valid photo ID if they no longer drive. Even if there were state issued voting cards, some senior citizens would be unable to acquire one without some kind of assistance from either family or friends. The poor would not necessarily drive either, especially in more urban areas. It is also worth mentioning that it could be difficult for lower income individuals to find the time to acquire a voting card if they were available anyways. Since minorities still appear to on average have lower incomes than whites, it is clear that minorities would greatly be impacted by these laws.
Democrats have decried the Arkansas Voter ID Law, along with other similar laws, as an assault on the voting rights of citizens. Some claim that to require a state photo ID would be a form of a poll tax, as some citizens would inherently need to acquire a voter ID card since they would not have any other form of photo ID. Republicans on the other hand claim that these laws will prevent voter fraud on a national level. Since the 2000 Presidential Election, there has been quite a focus on eliminating voter fraud. The 24th Amendment of the Constitution eliminates the practice of poll taxes, and both sides cite the amendment in order to justify their viewpoint. Republicans claim that the state photo ID will not be a tax nor will it be an unnecessary burden financially on any individual. Democrats contend that voter ID cards will be charged with a fee, and that this is a measure that dangerously appears to be a poll tax.
Realistically, the fee for the ID card is pretty small in most states. That being said, charging any amount seems to be a poll tax, even if it is a manageable amount. The principle of paying for an ID to vote is simply unconstitutional. In the case of Arkansas’s Voter ID Law, at least the ID is free of charge. However, as I had stated above, even if the ID is free many voters will face complications to obtain the card. While I sympathize with the fighters of voter fraud who believe that these laws are necessary to truly ensure voter purity, the only way these laws could ever be allowed is if the voter ID cards were free, and issued to every individual in the state. This sounds overwhelming, and would cost thousands of dollars to accomplish the task. When folks would come in to register to vote, the ID would be produced and given to the individual right there in the clerk’s office. This way, everyone would have at least a voter ID card, if not other forms of ID as well.
But the dilemma faced with this solution is the costliness, along with the redundancy of producing massive amounts of these cards for many folks who wouldn’t need them. Additionally, I question the constitutionality of asking for any form of ID to allow someone to vote, so long as their name is on the voter registration list for the precinct. It seems as though so long as people are on the list and registered to vote that there should not be any type of screening at the polls, as it takes up time and already so many skip out on voting due to time constraints. Yet, the debate will not go away, and Democrats need to address how to maneuver through these laws so they don’t appear to be pro voter fraud. Likewise, Republicans need to avoid looking like they are attempting to suppress voting groups that historically have voted Democratic the past few cycles. Intentions pure or not, the fact is that voters will be disenfranchised through the current proposed laws, and the removal of these voters will shift the demographics to a more Republican friendly field.
These aren’t illegal immigrants who will be impacted the most, but we will see senior citizens and low income voters lose their voice in the political system. If the most vulnerable amongst us lose their voice, what would stop lawmakers from going even further? Regardless of ideology, both parties need to work together to find a sensible way to move forward, as these current laws are not allowing democracy to take place. Instead, these laws put a strain on the voting process in a way that will make voting a more exclusive right for only some citizens, not all. To preserve democracy, we must preserve the voice of every individual and the right for every individual to participate in the electoral process. The court decision to strike down the Arkansas Voter ID Law was a step in the right direction, and hopefully will contribute to a national trend to prevent passage of these laws until they ensure not even one American will lose their voice in the democratic process. Being a nation that preaches for free and unfettered elections around the globe, we need to admit our mistakes and begin an evaluation of how free our own elections are. We will see in the coming months if this evaluation takes place, I feel as though it will.