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Voting "Barriers"

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Karen Sloan reports for NLJ:  "A wave of election laws will make it more difficult for 5 million qualified voters to cast ballots in 2012, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law."  Well, the assertion that all those voters are qualified is doubtful, and a reduction in turnout isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Two of the most controversial laws are ID requirements (intended to prevent the crime of voting fraud) and felon disenfranchisement, a collateral consequence of committing a crime.
Showing ID is a routine function in daily life.  You show ID to buy something with a credit card.  If you appear to be under 30 (and sometimes even if you don't), you show ID to buy a drink in a bar.  If you receive government benefits, you often have to show ID to get them.  If we consider ID to be reasonable and necessary for all these less important transactions, shouldn't we consider it reasonable and necessary for the far more important issue of who will run our government?

So what's the big deal?  The Brennan Center et al. claim that an ID requirement is a special burden on poor people, racial minorities, and the elderly.  I find that very difficult to believe.  My wife works at a government clinic where most of the patients are low-income and "minority" and many are elderly.  They all have ID, and the requirement to show it upon intake is not a problem for them.

Voter ID is said to be unnecessary because there is "no evidence of widespread fraud."  So how much fraud is okay?  How much fraud is undetected precisely because there is no ID requirement?  Given the minimal burden of showing ID, it doesn't take much to make it worthwhile.

Another antifraud measure is registering in advance.  Such a requirement "discriminates" not on the basis of race or income or political affiliation but on the degree to which the person cares about voting.  If you actually care, registering a month ahead of the election is no serious burden.  Is it a bad thing that people who care about government and inform themselves on the issues vote in greater proportion than the "whatever" crowd?  Seems like a good thing to me.  We properly got rid of property requirements to vote a long time ago, but that does not mean that maximum turnout is an unalloyed good.  The country is better off if people who care little do not vote.

Finally, there is felon disenfranchisement.  Such laws come in a whole spectrum from too severe to too lax.  I agree that an old conviction of a lower-grade felony ought not disenfranchise a person who has gone straight for a period of years after release.  At the other extreme, people who claim that convicted murderers should vote while still in prison* are just plain loco.  The right answer lies somewhere in the middle, but the max-vote crowd does not seem interested in compromise.

Their real reason, of course, has nothing to do with rights or equality or democracy.  It is simply about getting more left-leaning candidates elected.  Convicted criminals are more likely to vote for the same candidates the folks at the Brennan Center prefer.  People who are neither criminals nor apologists for criminals might want to consider that when casting their own votes.

* See, e.g., Hayden v. Pataki, 449 F. 3d 305 (2006).

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