By Sylvia Hampton
May 15, 2012 (San Diego) -- Thirty states (not California) have enacted laws that require a photo-ID in order to vote. These laws are a violation of the Voting Rights Act and are unconstitutional, so they are always challenged in court. But right now---for this election, meet a woman in South Carolina: an 82 year old black woman who has been a registered voter in South Carolina since the Voting Rights Act was passed into law, has no government issued photo ID because she has always used public transportation and her birth certificate, (tucked into the family Bible) from Mississippi was lost in a fire---so she can’t vote.
She has a Medicare card, a Social Security card and tax and utility records that go back to the days when she was young and worked in the home of the Mayor as a nanny and house cleaner. But she can’t vote because she cannot prove who she is. Her voting card from past elections in South Carolina is no good because the law has been changed, she is told. The Supreme Court has always ruled against such laws, but she got the message. She cannot be trusted. She may be trying to rig the election. So she stays home, even if it may be her last chance to vote in her life.
This is called “voter suppression” and it works to rig elections in a subtle, legal and insidious way.
Enter a new generation of voters and photo-IDs.
A friend’s 20 year old grandson recently grew a beard. When she met him at the airport, she didn't recognize him. Fortunately, he recognized her.
What does his beard have to do with voter-id? For one thing, if he were using a photo-id from his pre-beard days to vote in a photo-ID state, an election official would be unable to determine that he was who he claimed to be. Furthermore, as teenagers who are under the legal drinking age can attest, it is easy to get a fake document. Just Google “fake drivers license” or “fake passport.”
You have to wonder--- why are states passing these unnecessary laws? Instead of focusing on the real and present dangerous threat posed by insecure computerized voting systems that could report the wrong results - either because of software bugs or hidden malicious software, we are talking about how easy or difficult it might be to prove your identity and citizenship.
If someone wants to steal an election, they will do it the easy way by rigging the voting machines. The claim that the problem is unqualified people voting is a smokescreen. No evidence of this has ever been documented. Our own Registrar of Voters says it is so rare that no election in San Diego County has ever been affected by it. Not only does every fake voter risk being caught and thrown into jail, we are talking about changing results by ones and twos. By contrast, rigging voting machine software can change potentially hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of votes nationwide.
Voter photo-ID serves two purposes: First, it distracts from the real issue, which is that some of our elections are scandalously inaccurate and insecure. Second, it disenfranchises the poor, minorities, elderly, and people with disabilities.
Let's examine what is really happening, not whether or not a picture is necessary to prove identity behind a beard or an old woman is who she claims to be. The beard guy would be allowed to vote in South Carolina. He would put up a fight and demand his clear and legal right to vote. Even if his driver license looked like George Clooney. Because he is upper class, white and knowledgeable.
We should make it as easy as possible to vote.
Here in California, we can stand up against this insidious trend by supporting Assembly Bill 1436 (Feuer). AB 1436 will allow eligible Californians to register to vote on Election Day and during the two weeks leading up to it.
The organizations across California are teaming up to gather signatures in support of Election Day Registration (EDR). States with EDR lead the nation in voter turnout. We, too, can increase voter participation by making registration easy and convenient for all eligible voters.
Sylvia Hampton is a community activist inducted into the San Diego County Women’s Hall of fame for 2008 for her work in the fields of healthcare reform, social justice and reproductive health. She is past president of the League of Women Voters of San Diego County and served on President Nixon’s Title X Family Planning Council. Opinions are Sylvia’s alone and not to be interpreted as the policies of the League of Women Voters or East County Magazine.