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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Peter Should Be A Better Reader

I started to respond to this post of Peter's in the comments section, but I realized there was enough material, and the issue is important enough, to offer a separate post.

Peter criticizes (mocks?) my description of Georgia's new law requiring voters to present state-issued photo IDs by suggesting that I have misunderstood the word "disenfranchises"; maybe I have, but he hasn't explained why he thinks this, so I will leave that issue aside. More importantly, he writes that
Well, it turns out that an independent, bipartisan commission headed by Jimmy Carter and James Baker weighed in last week and recommended various measures, including -- you guessed it -- photo IDs for all voters.

Whether or not one agrees with the measure is a fair question. But the impetus for photo IDs doesn't stem from sinister motives. The sooner some people understand that, the sooner we can come to a solution that addresses all legitimate concerns.
I've been rubbing my hands together Monty-Burns style waiting for Peter to raise the Carter-Baker report so I could provide this response:
You might want to read Jimmy Carter and James Baker's op ed:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/23/opinion/23carter.html

Since we presented our work to the president and Congress, some have overlooked almost all of the report to focus on a single proposal - a requirement that voters have driver's licenses or government-issued photo ID's. Worse, they have unfairly described our recommendation. [Emphasis added.]

Here's the problem we were addressing: 24 states already require that voters prove their identity at the polls - some states request driver's licenses, others accept utility bills, affidavits or other documents - and 12 others are considering it. This includes Georgia, which just started demanding that voters have a state-issued photo ID, even though obtaining one can be too costly or difficult for poor Georgians. We consider Georgia's law discriminatory. [Emphasis added.]

Our concern was that the differing requirements from state-to-state could be a source of discrimination, and so we recommended a standard for the entire country, the Real ID card, the standardized driver's licenses mandated by federal law last May. With that law, a driver's license can double as a voting card. All but three of our 21 commission members accepted the proposal, in part because the choice was no longer whether to have voter ID's, but rather what kind of ID's voters should have.
As it happens, I didn't see Peter's post early enought to get to provide that response: lerxst did, in the comments section of Peter's post (by the way, lerxst, thanks; also, Peter has told me that he doesn't often read the NYT -- can't remember if it's just the op-eds or the whole rag -- so that, rather than a terrible memory, is probably what explains his failure to cite the repudiation of his argument by the two Jimmies on whom his claims rely).

Just to reiterate, Peter: even James Baker, noted opponent of vote-counting, "consider[s] Georgia's law discriminatory".

Here are some other points demonstrating that the supposed (see, Peter, I can use that word, too!) anti-fraud basis for this law has less to do with the law than preventing certain undesirables from voting:
  1. According to this Atlanta Journal-Constitution article,
    a lawsuit recently filed to challenge the law argues that requiring Georgians to pay for a state-issued identification card to vote constitutes a poll tax that is specifically outlawed under the 24th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In addition to the $20 to $35 fee for an ID card, there are also travel costs associated with getting an ID card, since only 56 of Georgia's 159 counties offer the cards at Department of Driver Services offices.

    "These costs constitute a far greater and more significant obstacle to voting than the $20 fee, and fall almost exclusively and most heavily on the poor, the infirm and the elderly and not on the more affluent individuals who own cars, have driver's licenses and/or passports," the lawsuit states.

    Unlike Peter, I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know how much validity the 24th Amendment argument has. But I will also note that I've read that if you're willing to pay $35 instead of $20, you can get a photo ID that's good for 10 years, not just for 5. If the point of this thing is just to make sure that (a) people are who they say they are, and (b) they live where they say they live, why does the same card cost more for a longer duration? And why have a 10-year duration in the first place, since more people are likely to move over a 10-year period than a five-year one? Hell, why have a period longer than the next election cycle at all? Even if there were a rational basis (law talk!) for a law requiring IDs like these, this particular law seems pretty irrational. And then of course there's the question of whether rational basis or strict scrutiny is the appropriate legal standard....but unlike Peter, I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know.

  2. According to the same article, lawyers participating in this lawsuit
    cited testimony by Secretary of State Cathy Cox — who opposed the requirement but who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit — given during consideration of the bill that during her nine years in office that she has not documented voter fraud at the polls by people pretending to be someone they are not.
    Gee, this fact, assuming it is one, would be enough to make a guy wonder whether "people pretending to be someone they are not" is really one of those "legitimate concerns" Peter ascribes to the law's supporters. In other words, it's enough to make a guy wonder whether there's even a rational basis for a law more rational than this particular one.

  3. Then there's this passage from the AJC article:
    The lawsuit also alleges that the photo ID requirement violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by placing unnecessary obstacles to voting in person. The new law allows voters to cast an absentee ballot without showing ID, but requires voters who show up in person to show one of the forms of government-issued photo identification.
    Hard to find a rational basis for a law requiring X to achieve not-Y when that same law allows not-X when there is even more reason to worry about Y in the case when not-X is allowed (X=presentation of a photo ID, Y=event of a would-be voter's fraudulent identity claim). Gee, I am having a harder and harder time believing that Peter's "legitimate concerns" could be addressed by Georgia's law.

  4. But here's the coup de grace. From the same AJC article, I see that
    Previously, voters in Georgia could show one of 17 forms of identification, including non-photo ID such as birth certificates, Social Security cards, utility bills, payroll checks and other documents showing a name and address. [Emphasis added.]
    So what documents allow you to prove your identity for the purposes of obtaining a Georgia photo ID? Here is what the Georgia Department of Driver Services website says:
    Applicant must furnish proof that he or she resides in Georgia and must provide a valid Georgia residence address. The following items are acceptable [emphasis added]:

    * Utility bill with valid Georgia residence address;
    * Bank statement with valid Georgia residence address;
    * Rental contracts and/or receipts with valid Georgia residence address;
    * Employer verification;
    * Georgia license issued to parent, guardian, or spouse.
    So if a utility bill is ok to get a photo ID, why can't it be used instead of a photo ID? Now, later on the same website, we see this text:
    First time applicants for a Georgia license or permit or identification card must show some acceptable form of personal identification that includes full name, month, day and year of birth. After verification of full name and date of birth, documents will be returned immediately to the licensee. The following items are acceptable but must be Original or a Certified Copy:
    * Original birth certificate (State issued) State Vital Statistics (Hospital birth certificates are not acceptable).
    * Certified copy of birth certificate (Issued from Vital Statistics with affixed seal)
    * Certificate of birth registration
    * Certified copy of court records (adoption, name changes or sex changes.)
    * Certified naturalization records
    * Immigration I.D. card Immigration and Naturalization
    * Valid Passport
  5. To sum up: you can get a photo ID -- even if you've never had one before -- without any sort of existing photo ID, as long as you have an original or certified copy of various official documents showing your name and birthdate, and some other document -- not even an official government one -- showing your address.

    The very same set of documents used to be sufficient to prove your identity for voting purposes, but now you have to bring said documents to the Department of Driver Services (or hope one of the roving buses comes to your town) in person. And once you do, you can have an ID that's good for up to 10 years. Even without proving your address remains the same.
Gee, Peter, I wonder why people like me doubt the motives of the people who enacted this law? Well:
  1. It claims to solve a problem that its supporters can't show really exists

  2. It involves arbitary financial costs (which can be forgiven for the "indigent", whatever that means, but not for the just "not-well-off") as well as travel costs, which are likely to be especially great for minorities, among whom car ownership rates are lower than among whites

  3. It imposes no such costs on absentee voters, for whom I would think the ability to pretend to be someone else would be somewhat greater than among those who present in person

  4. It allows the very same documents for issuance of a photo ID as used to be allowed for proof of identity at the polls
This is a discriminatory law. This is a stupid law on its own terms. This law has no business taking effect. This law very well may violate the US Constitution.

Peter, I imagine you didn't know many, if any, of these facts. I'll be interested to see if you're willing to confront them head on.

Update: Peter responds in the comments section. He says that his point was broader than the Georgia law:
It was broader because your original post suggested (to me at least) that you view those who support photo-identification in the voting context as really being interested in voter suppression....I get the impression that you think the whole idea
of photo-identification is a red herring, masking sinister motives.
Well, I didn't take any shots at Baker-Carter (though I'll concede I took a somewhat less ad hominem shot at Baker than Peter took at Carter). So I think you are arguing with a phantom. That said, here's what I wrote in my original post:
Republicans love to say they oppose easier access to voter registration and voting because they are worried about voter fraud.

That is their excuse for the new Georgia law requiring photo identification -- despite the absence of any evidence that there was substantial voter fraud in the past. Not shockingly, the poor, the elderly and blacks will be the voters most likely to be disenfranchised by this law.

Of course, it was also the excuse for the voter suppression efforts the GOP ran in Ohio during the 2004 presidential campaign.
I stand by those comments. If your concern is that I am habitually skeptical of limitations on voting eligibility enacted by Republicans, then you should be concerned. They deserve the skepticism. They have a long, sordid history of trying to suppress voting, especially by blacks, ever since they repugnantly and willingly welcomed the southern racists who quit the Democratic Party when its control was wrested away via the Civil Rights movement.

I don't think the burden of proof is on people who note the systematic assault on basic political rights by conservatives. I think the burden is on conservatives to show that their "legitimate concerns" are about more than losing elections. In two comments and a full post, Peter has yet to appeal to any such evidence. It's like he's using the Intelligent Design standard of evidence or something.

Peter then says his point was narrower in that
We should recognize that reform along the lines of photo-identification generally (i.e. not in the Georgia-specific context) has merit, and then have a discussion as to the best way to implement such a requirement.
(Personally I am confused about how a statement that suggests "reform along the lines of photo-identification generally (i.e. not in the Georgia-specific context)" constitutes narrowing, but perhaps I am just confused, and this point is not very important in any case.)

Again, maybe it does have merit. But why? What "legitimate concern" does it solve? And, if it does solve this "legitimate concern", is the cure worse than the disease?

He also says that
I get the sense that you believe that the whole issue is a non-starter -- that if one says they think we should have photo-identification, then one is really just a vote supressor.
That's certainly not my view. But again, where is the evidence that we need photo-identification? Where is the evidence that the costs have been lined up against the benefits? Convince me. I'm an empiricist.

Lastly I'd like to note that in his post today, Peter wrote that
Whether or not one agrees with the measure is a fair question. But the impetus for photo IDs doesn't stem from sinister motives.
The supposedly rampant fraud that photo IDs are purportedly meant to solve are way down the list of real election-related issues. You want to improve the US election system? Then get more machines in minority and low-income precincts so we don't have a repeat of this year's disgracefully long lines in Ohio. Get a uniform system of vote counting so we don't have the spectacle of logical inversion created by Supreme Court Justices preventing counting of legitimately cast ballots on equal protection grounds. Get a paper trail for electronic voting machines.

In other words: get real. Spend your time thinking about real problems, not excuses to avoid them. Or convince me that there is a real problem to be solved by photo IDs.

2 Comments:

Blogger cornhuskerblogger said...

Fearing the potential problems of painting with too-broad a brush, but not so worried as to go mute on the matter, i think a good rule of thumb is this: if a southern state has a new idea on voting procedures, best break out the peer review.

Again, it's a broad brush -- but track records don't exist to be ignored...and i'm looking at you, former members of the Confederacy...

9/27/2005 5:52 PM  
Anonymous Bu$h Ate My Baby said...

Hmm, I still seem not to be able to get my point across, which I guess is my fault.

I was not trying to defend the Georgia law. You raise many points which question the motives of those state legislators who passed it. I will happily concede the problems you raise with it.

My point instead was both broader and narrower than what you seem to believe was my point.

It was broader because your original post suggested (to me at least) that you view those who support photo-identification in the voting context as really being interested in voter suppression.

If I read too much into your post, please let me know. But the fact is, the photo identification issue has been around for many years, and has been considered in many different circumstances. All those people in all those circumstances are not merely looking to supress a whole lot of voters. I get the impression that you think the whole idea of photo-identification is a red herring, masking sinister motives.

Therefor, since I was addressing the issue itself and not the particular Georgia law, then, my point was broader.

My point was narrower in that, again, in my own post and in my response comment to the esteemed lerxst, there can be valid issues as to how such a law is implemented. Again, here you raise a whole host of issues with the Georgia law. But that doesn't address my narrower point -- that those are the types of issues that we should be discussing, not the worthiness of photo-identification in the abstract. We should recognize that reform along the lines of photo-identification generally (i.e. not in the Georgia-specific context) has merit, and then have a discussion as to the best way to implement such a requirement.

Instead, I get the sense that you believe that the whole issue is a non-starter -- that if one says they think we should have photo-identification, then one is really just a vote supressor.

Which is why I think it is valuable that this bi-partisian commission came out with photo-identification as one of its proposals. It moves us away from shooting down the very concept and to the more particular (and dicier) question of how best to implement such a reform.

So, while impressive, I view your post as inapposite. Though I like your raising my Comic Book Guy reference by a Monty Burns reference.

9/27/2005 7:41 PM  

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