Some quick talking points about voter ID laws

Will you be engaging with folks who think that a voter ID law is a good idea tomorrow over turkey and stuffing? Because I think it’s perfectly fine to talk politics at the table, here are some talking points that I’ve tried to frame in a way that will appeal to conservative voters. (Let me know if you try them and if they work. And, please, add your own!)

  1. Fraudulent voting–any variety of a person voting when they should not–is really, really rare, and so we should not burden individuals and spent government money fixing it.
  2. Republican leaders in various states (like North Carolina) have admitted that voter ID laws will reduce voting among African Americans by making it harder for legal voters to vote. When any party seeks to reduce the number of people voting who can legally vote from getting to the polls, we have to be concerned. Support for democracy shouldn’t be partisan.
  3. Voters who are unlikely to have an ID are people who are already vulnerable: the elderly, people of color, and the poor. The reason they don’t have an ID in the first place is because it can be hard to get for them. What is not a burden for some of us, it can be a huge burden for someone else.
  4. Getting an ID costs money. Exercising our right to vote should never cost money. We decided a long time ago that you shouldn’t have to own property to vote, and  requiring people to pay a fee in order to vote is another form of that.
  5. Locations to secure a voter ID are not always easy to access. Growing up, I would have had to travel about 45 minutes during the middle of the workday to get such a location; other people in my school district would have had to travel 1.5 hours–again, all during the workday. Even worse, when states implement voter ID laws, they often quickly move to shut down the very places where you can get an ID when those places are located in primarily African American counties. First you require an ID, then you close the locations where people can get them? That looks like your goal was to make it harder for legitimate voters to vote, not to thwart fraudulent voting.
  6. Rural Americans should be especially concerned, as some of them will have to travel farther to get the required ID.
  7. You should not have to have a photo on file with the government in order to exercise basic rights outlined in the Constitution. I understand that you need an ID to fly on a plane or drive a car–but these things are not rights. Voting is, and, as with all rights, we should have as few restrictions on it as possible.
  8. Some people object to photographs of their faces for religious reasons. My home state of PA is home to many Amish, and they should have the right to vote without having to give up their religious right not to be photographed.
  9. Often times, our elders lack proper ID; if they do not drive (as many of them don’t), they have no need to secure an ID EXCEPT to vote–which may be a tremendous burden to someone who is homebound. Just because someone lives in a nursing home and can’t easily get to a voter ID location doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be able to vote via mail-in ballot.
  10. New voter ID laws require a lot of paperwork in some states. Women who have changed their names may be required to produce extensive documentation showing that they had one name at birth, another at marriage, then changed it again after a divorce or a widowhood, again at a second marriage. It can be very difficult to produce these documents, especially if they are 50 or 70 years old.
    Not all states have standard documentation. In the second half of the year I was born, the state stopped issuing birth certificates and instead issued birth registration forms. Later, Pennsylvania decided to go back to certificates–and disallowed the use of birth registration forms for use in various state agencies. It took me months of extra paperwork to get my driver’s license because of this. We should not delay people voting because of ID requirements.
  11. People who move frequently, just aren’t good at paperwork, grow up moving from family to family (raised by your parents, then with grandparents, then with family friends) are especially disadvantaged by paperwork burdens–but they still have the right to vote.
  12. Producing evidence that you live in a place can be difficult. Some states only accept utility bills or a lease as evidence, not just any mail. But young people and poor people often don’t have this kind of paperwork. A college student might sublease an apartment and have no bills in their names, for example. In the city where I live, the water bill will ONLY go to the landlord; it cannot be issued to the renter. As a renter, I have only three documents that establish my residency: my lease, my gas bill, and my electric bill; if I didn’t use both gas and electric, I might have just two bills that establish residence. But imagine if my 20 year-old nephew came to live with me to attend college at the university near my house. He wouldn’t be on my lease or on the bills. Then what?
  13. People may be homeless and thus without an address, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t part of a community and don’t have the right to vote. More than 500,000 Americans are homeless; many more live in cars or at campsites or in RVs along the side of the road or “couch surf.” An increasing number of our homeless have jobs but can’t pay rent. Again, this doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be able to vote.
  14. Think about whether you REALLY want politicians coming up with new ways to make it harder to vote.  Is that a road you want to go down?
  15. Politicians who want fewer legal voters voting are really saying that they are afraid that the majority of voters won’t support their ideas. When voter suppression works, it reduces incentive for them to serve the people, which is their job. It also increases incentive for them to keep disenfranchising voters they suspect won’t vote for them. This means that they’re not focusing on the common good, and they’re not even making an effort to create a message that would appeal to people outside their base. This can only create more corruption and increase polarization.


See the source image Above, a bar chart shows that those without appropriate voter IDs are more likely to be non-white, young, old, and poor. When the outcome of a law is that already-vulnerable people are further marginalized, we need to question what the purpose of that law is. 

These are just some of the reasons why voter ID laws–totally unnecessary–are a bad idea.

Just remember that what might be easy for you might not be easy for someone else. When the people who are disenfranchised are also the people our voting laws have historically prevented from voting (black people, native Americans, poor people, women (who are overrepresented among the elderly and the poor), we have to really look hard at why politicians are pushing for them.

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