Voter ID Laws: a Vicious Positive Feedback Loop

While they may have faded into the background during the absurdities of the first few weeks of the Trump Administration, let’s refocus ourselves on a few of our new POTUS’ recent tweets.

In post-election America voting regulations aren’t the hot-button topic anymore. Issues like the immigration ban are now more important than the effects of losing the popular vote on our President’s Hubris. But make no mistake those tweets, as well as a lot of predominantly republican rhetoric from the past campaign, are part of an American tradition of voter suppression that continues to this day.

One of the commonly expressed platitudes about American democracy is that our directly elected politicians are responsive to the public will. However, I would like to amend that statement to say that they are responsive only to the voting public’s will (this glosses over important issues in campaign finance, but that’s a different Pandora’s box).

In the past decade dozens of states have passed legislation purporting to uphold the integrity of elections through stricter ID laws for voting. This is all despite the fact that the type of fraud prevented by ID laws is almost non-existent. These laws can rob Americans of the freedom to express themselves politically far more than they prevent fraud, which in my opinion is actually a net loss in integrity for our elections.

Last year both Texas and North Carolina had overbearing voter ID laws struck down in Federal Court on the grounds that they were purposely aimed at discriminating against minority voters. So just why do states attempt to pass these laws?  My answer is not that our lawmakers are overtly racist or discriminatory, but that techniques for political survival and maintaining party dominance within states have institutionalized racism. It’s not that those proposing these laws think that minorities are lesser people, only that they are less likely to vote for them.

If you’re a republican congressman, governor, or state legislator, you know that minority voters are simply very unlikely to vote for you in meaningful numbers. In states where minority populations are growing, or already capable of swinging an election, just wanting to keep your job creates an incentive to disenfranchise them. Even more perversely this has the effect of consolidating electoral power to those who already support the politicians in office.

Because these people cannot vote, their views are less represented by their local legislators. And if their views are less important, then legislators have more freedom to pass discriminatory laws against them, usually under the aforementioned guise of preventing fraud. In biology this is what’s known as a positive feedback loop where once something is introduced it triggers a cycle generating more and more of that thing.

But perhaps this feedback loop wasn’t started with the implementation of the first strict voter ID laws in 2006. In fact there is a strong argument that these current laws are part of a cycle which can trace itself back to the overt racism of past centuries, especially in Southern states where slavery was most common.

The terrible political representation of minorities in our country can be traced all the way back to the ratification of our constitution. In our country’s early years not only were African-Americans not allowed to vote, but for census purposes they actually counted as 3/5ths of a person, increasing the power of slave-owning states at the federal level.

Fast forward to reconstruction. Even with the passage of the 13th and 14th amendments several states moved quickly to limit the voting rights of newly freed African-Americans, lest they take control of government institutions. This legacy lived on through Jim Crow laws, heavily biased literacy tests required to be allowed to vote, and relatively more recent attempts at gerrymandering.

My final though about voter ID and laws and representation is this: are the issues we see inherent problems created by a single member plurality voting system? Or are there tenable solutions, whole or partial, that can be implemented within the existing framework?

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7 Responses to Voter ID Laws: a Vicious Positive Feedback Loop

  1. azwoodland says:

    Great post! I am glad you wrote about the investigation into voter fraud, as well as discriminatory voter laws. This is something I am very passionate about!

    I didn’t fully understand the burden of Voter ID Laws until I turned 21. I had always heard that laws, such as the Arizona requirement to have a photo ID or two other documents, were discriminatory. I guess it’s my fault for not putting enough thought into analyzing them. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a lot of people do not put enough thought into it either.

    But man, my eyes were opened when it was time to flip my Arizona ID from vertical to horizontal. If you’re not familiar with the law, after an Arizona citizen turns 21, they are supposed to purchase a new ID. This is because the IDs issued to those under 21 are vertical, and the ID issued after 21 is horizontal. The switch from vertical from horizontal is supposed to better screen for people possibly buying alcohol underage. Well, that’s the intent.

    The day after I turned 21, I proudly marched down to the DMV to purchase a new ID. Of course the line was out the door (this is the DMV). My ticket wait time said an hour and twenty minutes. I’m not a patient person, so I left, opting to purchase a new ID online and have it arrive 10 days later. Of course, online, I had to submit documentation verifying my eligibility for an ID card and right to vote in the State (luckily I had my driver’s license from when I was 16, and my passport.) Additionally, I had to pay $25 for the ID.

    This whole process made me realize that I have spent a LOT of time and money on identification. Tallying it up, I had spent: $25 dollars on a new horizontal ID which was legally required for me to purchase and took 10 days to arrive. $25 dollars and a couple hours at the DMV for my under-21 vertical Driver’s License. $25 dollars and another couple hours at the DMV for another under-21 vertical Driver’s License (because of course I lost the original, please, I do not have my life put together). $7 and a couple of hours at the DMV for my instructional learner’s permit. $110 dollars on my United States passport, plus $60 dollars to expedite the process (because as you may remember, I do not have my life together).

    $252 dollars total. And a lot of time. Luckily, I had parents that were willing to pay for me and I could take off from school to stand in line at the DMV. But other people? They aren’t so lucky. I wish that our politicians could see that.

    Also, I’ll just leave this here. Because ice cream: http://www.benjerry.com/whats-new/2016/discriminatory-voter-id-laws

  2. mspivey97 says:

    You make some excellent points! Arguably, voter ID laws constitute a poll tax if one has to pay for an ID, which would be a violation of the 24th Amendment. Even if ID’s are free, taking a day off to go to the DMV (because we all know it will take the entire day) is an impossibility for people working paycheck to paycheck, who, of course, are disproportionately women and people of color. You see how things start to compound. I’ve always felt that we should automatically register people both to vote and to receive the early ballot once they turn 18 unless they choose to opt out. As you touched on, I do believe eliminating gerrymandering would dramatically boost turnout. Even the most civic-minded individual would have trouble finding the motivation to turn out if they were a progressive in rural Kentucky. Finally, I think the best way to defeat unjust voter ID laws is to make sure that those of us who already have an ID or can afford one, and those of who live in states where there is access to an early ballot, are constantly voting for candidates who support making it easier to vote, who make it a priority. We cant afford to simply pay attention during the presidential race anymore!

  3. bpclass17 says:

    You make some good points about the importance of voting. I personally vote in every election, a couple of which have been really close. Clearly U.S. history does include a number of discriminatory practices that prevented people from voting.

    However, I disagree that identification requirements used in most states today are designed to target specific groups of people. Instead, identification requirements are a common-sense measure that protects our elections and ensures the American people can be confident in the results. A 2016 Gallup survey found that 80 percent of Americans support voter identification laws.

    When politicians like President Trump, Jill Stein, or Hillary Clinton question the validity of our elections, identification requirements help us to confidently say that no dead people voted, no illegal immigrants voted, no children voted, and no one voted twice.

    Most Americans already have identification. A study in Indiana found that just one percent of potential voters did not have the necessary identification. Why is this number so low? All of these things also require photo identification:

    – Buy alcohol
    – Buy cigarettes
    – Pick up OTC and Rx medicines
    – Open a bank account
    – Enter a government building
    – Apply for food stamps
    – Apply for welfare
    – Apply for Medicaid
    – Apply for Social Security
    – Apply for unemployment
    – Apply for a job
    – Rent a house
    – Buy a house
    – Apply for a loan
    – Drive a car
    – Buy a car
    – Rent a car
    – Board an airplane
    – Get married
    – Buy a gun
    – Get a hotel room
    – Buy a cell phone
    – Get a PO Box

  4. amsturdam says:

    Nice post! I actually personally experienced my voice being limited due to some of these voter identification laws this past election cycle. A week or so before the election I actually had my wallet stolen and because of that did not have a copy of my drivers license for election day. Luckily I still had my passport and hoped that that would be enough to allow me to vote. When looking into Arizona laws I saw that I would not be able to because two forms of state or federal identification would be necessary. I was obviously sad and disappointed because I knew I wouldn’t be able to participate in our democratic process. I understand the want to limit the amount of voter fraud in our country but without serious evidence of it occurring I think these laws are doing more harm than anything.

  5. bealpeyton says:

    The most important question is whether or not “voter fraud” is something that occurs with any realistic measure of frequency. During the last election year, 2016, there were literally four cases of proven voter fraud out of over tens of millions of votes cast, according to the New York Times. That might be four too many! But still, if these laws have the potential to obstruct hundreds of thousands of people from participating in the electoral process, I think there needs to be a bit more evidence.

    Now, if curtailing fraudulent voting and making elections safer was truly a concern for the GOP, then why would they vote unanimously in committee to dismantle the “Election Assistance Commission,” which was established to preserve the integrity of elections following 2000? The reason I like to focus on the “voter fraud” aspect is because it is the entire justification for the laws. Most officials, not all, realize that saying “I want to systematically and legislatively deny democrats and people of color, for the most part, the right to vote” can come off as unsavory to some.

    Lastly, whether or not anyone genuinely believes that many of these “voter laws” are not at least partially designed to deter voters of color, there is a logical and even likely possibility that should be entertained: maybe, just maybe, there would not be such a strong alignment between democrats and voters of color if republicans did not devote so much time, energy and resources into restricting voting rights. Voting should be made easier, not harder. Food for thought.

  6. MasonC says:

    I think you made some fantastic points in your post. I would like to add that one of the most important things too look at when it comes to voter ID laws, and just voting laws in general is the Supreme Court decision Shelby County v Holder in 2013. For those who are unaware, Shelby County v Holder was 5-4 decision that ruled that certain sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act were no longer applicable in the modern era. Most importantly it decided that southern states no longer had to get federal approval to change their voting rights laws. For the past 40 years, the law kept the south from imposing their discriminatory voting practices on their minority populations. It shouldn’t be surprising to note that since the repeal of this ability, most of the voter ID laws passed have disenfranchised their minority populations. Look no further than the fact that black voting turnout decreased 8% in 2016 after North Carolina implemented a cut on their early voting.

    In my opinion a government of the people, by the people, for the people, should take every measure they can to INCLUDE more voters rather than exclude them. I ultimately don’t have a problem with voter ID laws, any attempt to further legitimize democracy is fine with me. I would be the fine accepting voter ID laws that allowed for more accepted forms of ID and made them more accessible. However, these laws should never hinder nor stop any eligible participant from voting by any means. To me, one single person being denying their constitutional right to vote is just as bad, if not worse, as someone committing voter fraud.

  7. thomasmatiski says:

    This a well-thought out, well-organized post regarding the state of voting, which in some respects is deplorable, and disenfranchisement at its absolute worst. The issue I have with this criticism, is that it is unknown if removing all barriers to voting is feasible. There has to be some minimum level of identification as a U.S. citizen for voting to work. Now, the inefficacy of the voter ID laws comes from the fact that for the most part, people already have the ID’s in question, such that they need them to function in normal society. The issues arise is that those in extreme poverty do not have the same access to obtaining said ID’s, thus creating a barrier, which then can be a tool to suppress voting, as mentioned in this post. This is an issue that essentially disenfranchises, as explained in the post. This leads me to believe that stringent voter ID laws are not solving the problem, and thus I look elsewhere to discover what might be driving voter fraud. The issue not addressed in the original post is thus: The most common method of voter fraud is someone that has moved to another state, but wasn’t removed from voter rolls, thus giving them access to two voting ballots and as such doubling their impact in elections. Dead people voting. This implies that voter fraud is a function of inaccurate state records. So rather than creating more stringent voting laws, perhaps we should consider as mentioned, in the following article, improving our databases by collating records across state lines, from DMV records to morgue reports in order to clean up our system, rather than imposing divisive and abusive voter ID laws with questionable efficacy. So I believe that the focus of voter fraud is wrongly focused on the symptoms of the problem, and we need to change tactics to stop voter fraud at its source.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/11/04/how-to-stop-voter-fraud-and-increase-turnout-at-the-same-time/?utm_term=.a9c9b9b7344a

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