Identity loss

New Virginia voter identification laws will hurt potential voters and the democratic process

The Virginia legislature recently passed laws that would reduce the incidence of voter fraud by limiting the types of voter ID polling places deem acceptable. With the new laws, voters can still show a voter ID card, concealed handgun permit, driver’s license or student ID but can no longer use a utility bill, pay stub, government check or Social Security card as proof of voting eligibility. These laws at first glance seem like measures that enhance the integrity of the voting process by preventing voter fraud. But a closer analysis reveals these laws could disenfranchise eligible voters.

One of the primary reasons I find these new laws rather ridiculous is that voter fraud is not a problem either in the United States or Virginia. As Virginia Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said in an interview last week with the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “We do not have any evidence of a lot of people showing up at the polls, pretending to be someone else.”.

Tova Wang, author of “The Politics of Voter Suppression: Defending and Expanding Americans’ Right to Vote,” asserts the same thing, and a look at actual cases of voter fraud yields a similar conclusion. News21, a branch of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education, reported that there have been, since 2000, a total of 2,068 voter fraud cases nationwide, with 32 cases occurring in Virginia. The turnout in Virginia for the 2012 national election was a little less than 4 million, making documented cases of voter fraud statistically quite insignificant. Fears of voter fraud hold little water — so what need is there for the ID restrictions?

I find it a bit ironic that in Virginia a utility bill and government-issued Social Security ID can be used to obtain a driver’s license -— a valid form of voter ID under this new law — but cannot be used to vote. And why does a gun permit carry more validity at the polls than a Social Security card? If Virginia gun permits had photos — they don’t — I could see why they would be allowed instead of Social Security cards, but as it stands the regulation makes little sense.

The legislation deters minority voters by limiting the possible forms of identification primarily to government-issued documentation. As many as 11 percent of eligible American voters — mostly seniors, racial minorities, low-income voters and students — do not have government-issued IDs.

The legislation is basically party politics that limits minorities who may not have the necessary form of ID to vote. For example, a person who has in the past relied on a utility bill to vote may face difficulties under this new law. Many voters without a government-issued ID, insofar as this group overlaps with racial minority groups, tend to vote Democrat: 71 percent of Hispanics and 93 percent of African Americans voted for Barack Obama in the 2012 election, for example. Party politics aside, there is no justification to limit eligible voters from exercising their civil rights. All eligible voters should be allowed to cast ballots with minimal restrictions. Otherwise, our voting process will lose integrity and legitimacy.

It is possible that Virginia’s recent voter ID laws may not be upheld in court. Last August a federal court struck down a Texas law that required photo IDs for voting. The law could have disenfranchised 600,000 minorities. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 ensures that any law associated with voting procedures must be pre-cleared by the Department of Justice. Virginia’s legislation may not pass muster if it is evident that the law will disenfranchise a large number of minority voters.

Though I find the new voter ID laws a bit excessive, I hope measures will be taken to prevent the laws from taking effect in 2014. Regardless of the motives used to justify these laws, the results are clear — rather than protect voters, it undermines the basic right to vote and the integrity associated with voting in general. Such measures complicate the voting process without additional benefits.

Fariha Kabir’s column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at f.kabir@cavalierdaily.com.


Published February 12, 2013 in Opinion





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