Protection or exclusion?

    At least something good has come from the 2000 presidential election debacle: the passing of the Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act of 2001.

    Pat Leung
    Guardian

    The legislation contains basic changes at the federal, state and local levels to protect voters and to improve election administration.

    The new legislation, passed April 11, requires first-time voters to show verification of local residency. The original proposal was altered many times to suit bipartisan agreement. While the result is far from ideal, it contains elements that may improve our nation’s electoral system.

    The bill sets electoral standards in three basic areas.

    First, voting standards will ensure that voters can confirm and correct their ballots, as well as be notified of overvotes.

    Second, the bill allows for provisional ballots. This means that if a voter’s name is not found on the registration list at the polls, or if other problems occur, the voter can still cast a ballot, which will be counted if the voter’s eligibility is thereafter verified.

    And third, the legislation requires voter registration lists.

    Buried in the compromised version of the bill lies the voter identification requirement, which many believe will undermine the voting capabilities of certain voting populations.

    It is important to consider what we are giving up with its passage.

    The identification requirement has raised questions about efficiency. Students, especially those who are away from home, are concerned about their right to vote. While they would still be allowed to vote in their hometown, their ability to vote in elections while away at college would be taken away if they do not have a legal form of ID that confirms their actual residence at college. This raises concerns about the added hassles people have to go through to prove their right to vote.

    Sen. Christopher Bond, a Republican from Missouri, believes that requiring ID is no such hassle: “”Ninety percent of adult Americans have a driver’s license,”” he said. “”You have to show an ID to get on a plane, to rent a video, to buy cigarettes. Why can’t you have some minimal identification to assure that you are a live human being, entitled to vote and entitled to vote only once in every important election?””

    Others believe that the bill will have adverse effects on minority and student populations, as well as the poor. Sen. Tom Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota, said he believes that there will end up being “”millions of people today who are not going to get to vote because they don’t have a photo ID, because they don’t have any means of showing identification through ownership,”” or in any case, a verifiable proof of residence.

    While there is little debate over whether we need electoral reforms, the ID requirement will foster more fraud than ever. Many people say they want to prevent felons or undocumented immigrants from voting illegally. However, this legislation does not prevent such people from voting; false identification is easy to come by and easy to make. If a felon were able to obtain a fake ID, nowhere on the card would it be verifiable that the cardholder was a felon.

    The ID requirement also presents an administrative problem.

    There will be thousands of low-income, elderly, homeless, minority and student voters who must make special arrangements to vote. Under this legislation, even registered voters would have to find an open Department of Motor Vehicles office to get a state-issued identification card. This would present a major problem for those who are not easily mobile and cannot just drive to the DMV to get an ID. Imagine the hundreds of thousands of tax dollars that would have to be spent to prevent voter fraud — a task that should be left in the hands of those who are working the polls. What many seem to want is not a complete overhaul of the electoral system, but more competent poll workers.

    Furthermore, the bill may also result in discrimination. What advocates of the bill don’t realize is that voting is a fundamental right that should not be burdened by any other requirement. We need identification to drive, to get on a plane and to rent a video because those are not rights clearly guaranteed by the Constitution. Voting is the essence of an individual’s social and political participation in a democracy; it is part of a citizen’s livelihood.

    By supporting this piece of legislation, we are supporting the disenfranchisement of everyone’s right to vote, not only the rights of students, minorities or the poor.

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