Viewpoint: Encouraging apathy

BY JAMES BRENNAN

Published June 17, 2012

Some pundits are calling this November’s presidential election one of the most important in recent history, a showdown that will determine the direction of our country. They’re right — there hasn’t been a greater debate over America’s political ideology in more than three decades, when Ronald Reagan took office and changed the face of conservatism, the Republican Party and America. With the soul of our country at stake this November, voting — and for that matter, illegal voting — is as important an issue as ever. However, a chink in the armor of our democracy still lurks: voter fraud laws.

Voter fraud is a huge problem in America. In 2000, the Gore campaign was accused of racking up thousands of votes from dead people. And currently, non-citizens are voting in threatening numbers, while other individuals are voting twice. Any American in favor of the principles of our democracy should see these issues as a great threat to the makeup of our government. But — and yes, there is always a but — there’s just one problem: voter fraud is nothing more than a red herring to promote laws that will discourage and deny legal voters.

Though these laws may seem nonthreatening at first, they are far from it. They range from simply requiring a photo ID for voting to complex systems that confuse and push people away from registering, especially in low-income and minority areas. Requiring a voter to have an ID may seem innocent, but according to New York University’s School of Law Brennan Center for Justice, some one in 10 voters possess no photo ID. Getting a driver’s license is a simple task for some of us, especially those with access to cars, but low-income people without vehicles or reliable public transportation have a more difficult time.

Obtaining a photo ID can be especially difficult, and in some states impossible, if one does not have a copy of their birth certificate, an issue faced by many older African-Americans. In fact, a 93-year-old woman has brought suit against Pennsylvania for its new voter laws, as she does not possess a driver’s license or a birth certificate. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, requiring a passport or birth certificate to get an ID to vote would mean that almost one in every 11 black adults would be disqualified from voting. In Florida, anti-voter fraud acts have predominantly targeted the Latino community, as dozens of letters have been sent to eligible citizens telling them they can’t vote.

Further measures influencing the process of voter registration greatly affect minorities living in poorer areas, where voter registration groups can have a huge impact. In Florida and Michigan, legislation has passed putting unnecessary restrictions on such groups while creating short windows of time between when a voter can fill out his or her registration and when it can legally be turned in. In Florida, the time is set at 48 hours and in Michigan at only 24 hours. These restrictions are hurting organizations trying to register citizens to vote, creating major roadblocks and little time to navigate through them.

There are plenty of other laws on the books in Iowa, Texas, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Kansas and South Carolina — all of which are quite alike and defended in very similar ways. Voter fraud, for the most part, is not what people say it is. When fraud does occur, it happens at rates of about a hundred-millionth of a percent, as in 20 to 100 people will actually have illegally voted. On the other hand, voting will become “significantly harder” for some 5 million eligible voters. In Florida in 2000, some 20,000 people were barred from voting due to errors in voter restriction systems. Pair these issues with traditionally poor voter turnout, and the result is an ineffective law discouraging an already apathetic electorate.

Regardless of whether this is a partisan plot to discourage traditionally Democratic voters from voting in the upcoming election, or just another poorly developed anti-fraud policy, these laws are unacceptable. It shouldn’t matter whether or not liberals or conservatives will benefit — what should matter is that the country formerly known as the “arsenal of democracy” is subverting the very philosophy we champion. If we want to end voter fraud, there are ways to do so. But those ways should not prevent thousands of eligible citizens from participating in our country’s greatest tradition.

James Brennan is a LSA sophomore.