Chances are good that the first words most people will hear when meeting a police officer will be, “Identification, please.” There are many reasons for this requirement, including the need to protect the officer’s safety or to locate wanted subjects, to name but two. Likewise, there are also a number of reasons why proper credentials are essential for legitimate business and government functions.
One might think that legislation mandating proper identification would be a protective measure easily embraced by everyone. However, when said mandate has political strings attached, one would be wrong. The political strings attached to recent legislation in both Virginia and South Carolina require voters to have government issued identification.
I would normally support a law that increases the number of people with photo identification, but that doesn’t mean any law will do. This law actually imperils voters’ rights; the same rights the measure was allegedly designed to protect.
The media controversy surrounding these two state laws has galvanized activists in both political parties. It has also immersed state legislators in a quicksand of presidential politicis, racial tension and federal prosecution. That result is due to the fact that the voter ID mandate will clearly benefit one political party (Republican) over another (Democrat) at the polls in November.
A recent Trib article (8/27) connected the dots by referencing the lopsided number of minorities who, for various socioeconomic reasons, are less likely to have acceptable government identification such as passports, military ID or state driver’s licenses. The loss of this demographic on election day would, according to the report, be a severe blow to the Democratic Party.
The media debate extends to the so-called intent of the measures: the prevention of voter fraud. Another round of media inquiry failed to uncover any significant examples of the fraud these laws were drafted to prevent.
One side effect of this discussion is the resurrection of the term gerrymandering, last seen by most people in multiple choice civics tests in high school. Gerrymander - a word that references a voting district unfairly restructured to favor a particular party – has been the verb used to describe South Carolina’s voter ID mandate. Unlike Virginia, South Carolina’s voter ID mandate has incited the wrath of the U.S. Department of Justice, which has dispatched civil litigators there to argue on behalf of citizens who may be indirectly disenfranchised by the new law.
That brings us up to date, more or less, on a topic that is far more important than it may seem at first. To be blunt, a voter ID mandate will affect citizens who either don’t care enough about voting, or who lack the resources or will to obtain and maintain proper identification in order to do so.
Should we care about the voting rights of people who may have to choose between buying food and paying for ID? Should we care about the rights of people who don’t seem to care about their own?
South Carolina and Virginia said, “No” to these questions. That was the wrong answer. The right answer is “Yes” and here is why:
Our country was born into a world that knew nothing of civil rights, our continued existence as a free people is due to the sacrifice of brave men and women who fought, bled and died for the right to choose our own leaders up until this very day, and those hard earned rights should NEVER be legislated away.
The Department of Justice needs to deliver the message to South Carolina politicians, and our nation, that no state should be allowed to dangle the right to vote on a string.