Thursday, September 21, 2006

Stupid Congress Tricks: Prove you're a citizen

By Nancy Jane Moore

I woke up this morning to a news report that the Republican-controlled US House passed a bill requiring citizens to present photo IDs to vote in 2008 and proof of citizenship in 2010. The Kansas City Star reports on it here.

Proof of citizenship? Can a national ID card be next? After all, most US citizens don't have passports -- an article in the Canadian foreign policy newsweekly Embassy puts the number of US passports at 20 percent.

And how good is a birth certificate for ID really -- they don't come with pictures. It would be so much easier just to make everyone have a national ID card, with photo, social security number, RFID chip, GPS locator . . .

All my life I've heard Americans -- particularly very conservative Americans -- gasp in horror at the very idea of a national ID card. We require immigrants to carry a card showing they're allowed to be here, but if you're a citizen, you don't need to show no stinkin' ID. It's part of our heritage.

And yet here's the right wing Congress, looking to change all that, and blaming it on "voter fraud." Clearly it will disenfranchise the poor. Look at the problem with the new Medicaid rules, where they are requiring birth certificates and other proof of citizenship of people who are poor and often uneducated. There are still some people in this country who never had a birth certificate -- particularly older African Americans who were born at home in the Jim Crow South. But now an elderly woman with Alzheimer's living in a nursing home must show she's a citizen or get kicked out on the street.

Funny that they should take this vote a week or so after the Maryland primary showed up all the technical glitch problems with fancy new electronic voting machines -- the problems in wealthy, sophisticated Montgomery County, Maryland, were legion. And, of course, we all know the story of the vote counting problems in Florida in 2000 and the problems at the polls in Ohio in 2004. Even if you don't think those problems were caused by partisan officials trying to not count some votes or keep their opponents from voting, the lack of quality vote counting was a disgrace.

As computer security experts keep pointing out, many of the new electronic voting machines are not only subject to bugs and glitches, they're hackable. Here's an essay by Bruce Schneier pointing out how electronic voting should be done if it's going to fix our voting problems instead of making them worse.

No one knows how many non-citizens sneak in and vote every year, but I bet the number is minuscule. After all, look at how few citizens vote: 60 percent in the 2004 presidential election -- and that was considered a good turnout.

But the potential for real fraud from hackable voting machines is very real. And the problem of disenfranchisement by partisan election officials has already been documented.

As usual, Congress is ignoring the real problem and fixing something that doesn't need fixing. Can it be that their real goal is to keep people from voting?


Anonymous said...

I'd say that's exactly the goal. We are quickly becoming Stalinist Russia.... it's happening here... and the very people who used to maintain power by contrasting themselves with the commies are the ones doing it.

the Senate just "compromised" on torture..... this is no longer america.... the slimest of chances that a tidal wave election can reclaim it....

Anonymous said...

I've got to have two photo IDs to get a job in the US, but no ID to vote? This doesn't make any sense.

Nancy Jane Moore said...

I've got a voter registration card and I sign my name on the voter sheet at the polls. That's plenty of ID. We want to encourage voting, not discourage it.
I don't see why it should be as hard to vote as it is to get a job. You have to prove a lot of things to get a job.
And TWO photo IDs to get a job? Why would they need two -- surely one is sufficient to show you look something like the person pictured on the card.

R. Silver said...

I come from a state, Washington, where corruption in our largest county threw the election for governor. Dead people voted. Felons voted. Non-citizens voted. Positive picture ID would have prevented much of the fraud.

Why would you present this simple requirement as some draconian measure when many other countries in the world do it this way? It is a simple thing to obtain picture ID. It would prevent a lot of fraud by either party. Citizen's confidence in the election process is at stake.

Your arguments are shallow.

Nancy Jane Moore said...

Do you have any proof that dead people and non-citizens voted, or are those just allegations people have tossed around? I think the real fraud potential in the modern age is not in who shows up at the polls, but whether or not the vote counting procedure is tamper proof.
I also suspect that people who think getting photo IDs is easy for everyone have never had much experience with really poor people in this country. I spent a lot of years as a lawyer in legal services programs, so I know there are lots of people who just don't have the paperwork that middle class citizens take for granted.
Note that beginning in 2008 we will all have to prove citizenship to get the most common form of photo ID -- a driver's license. Here is a webpage with some statistics about the people who lack both birth certificates and passports -- the kind of ID that will be necessary to get a photo ID in the future.
For the most part they're poor rural people and in the south, I suspect most of them are African American -- people who've been prevented from voting in the past.
It's not only voting that's at issue here, though; it's also the movement toward a national ID card. We've always avoided that in this country -- proving you're a citizen has always been something a little unseemly to this nation of immigrants.
And if we're eventually going to make everyone get a voter registration card with photo ID -- which I can easily see in the cards -- voter turnout is going to drop even further. Are we going to have to go stand in line for hours just to get a voter registration card the way we now have to do to renew driver's licenses? How many people will do that?
BTW, R.Silver, thanks for using your name. Even if we disagree, it's nice to have a name to attach to the discussion, instead of debating anonymously.