Monday, November 03, 2008

Voter ID

I've mostly suspended posting because I'm deathly afraid I will write something stupid that will jinx Obama and lead to four more years of McSame.

However, I got into a bit of a dustup with some friends over voter ID requirements and I wanted to put out a PSA because there's a massive amount of confusion about them.

Prior to the 2000 election, in almost all cases the procedure for voting was that you walk into your polling place, find your name on the rolls, sign the blank that says "I'm me!" and vote.

After the 2000 election, which of course was rife with problems, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, a portion of which was designed to standardize and modernize elections to avoid the "butterfly ballot" problems that depressed the Gore vote in Florida and eventually led to the inauguration of George W. Bush.

Unfortunately another portion of HAVA was an attempt by Republicans to get the camel's nose under the tent on Voter ID laws. Federal law now states that the FIRST time you register to vote in a federal election you must provide identification to the registrar, and if you don't you are then required to show ID at the polling place.

That's all the federal law says. If you are not voting for the first time, or if you provided a photo ID at the time of registration, you can still vote the old way - walk in, sign the box that says "I'm me!" and walk into the voting booth and cast a normal ballot.

On the matter of STATE law, there are some states where this is no longer the case. In most cases the ID requirements are superbroad, allowing virtually anything that could remotely be construed as ID, such as a utility bill or a bank statement, but of course if you live in one of those states you should check the state government's webpage for a list of acceptable ID.

The following states require a voter to present SOME form of identification, but do not require a picture ID, and require voters not showing any ID to vote via provisional ballot:

South Carolina
Washington (State)

There are two states that have ironclad PICTURE ID requirements: Indiana and Georgia. Both allow provisional ballots to be cast by people without ID, but in Georgia you must provide a photo ID to the registrar within two days of the election.

In Florida, the law is weird and arcane and despite the fact that based on my reading of the law you don't have to show ID, I recommend that Florida voters just cave and show ID.

In all other states, you can still vote the old way. Although many states (including my state of Virginia) have laws allowing poll workers to request identification, you can refuse to provide photo ID and just sign the box that says "I'm me!" The only circumstance in which this is not advisable is if you are, in fact, someone else.

People ask me a lot "Why is this so important to you?" Well, there are a lot of reasons. The most important is probably just that I think proper administration of voting procedures are important to democracy and I chafe when somebody tells me I have to do something that is not, in fact, required of me.

The second, perhaps more substantive reason, is that I think the end effect of HAVA and other provisions allowing poll workers to ask for ID is that a generation from now, someone will propose a federal ID law and people will not resist it because they will think "I thought that's the way it already was!"

As for WHY I don't like voter ID laws, those arguments have been made at length elsewhere and I'd be happy to have a discussion on that another time. For now, let me announce again that I, a Virginia voter who has voted before in a federal election, I will not be showing ID at the polls. If you live in one of the states that allows you to vote by normal ballot, and you oppose voter ID laws as I do, I invite you to exercise your rights and do the same.

For everyone else, just show ID! Your poll workers will appreciate that you aren't like that annoying dude with the silly T-shirts.

1 comment:

theloushe said...

Please link to the WHY arguments on voter ID for federal elections...I suspect that I might agree with you but want to make sure I'm up to speed. Oy, for a misspent youth! Here's hoping that I can inform myself well enough to be a good role model for my children and make sure that they start their adult lives much more politically equipped than I did.