I really have tried to understand the clamor over the voter ID issue but I don’t get it. I’ve read the statements and press releases, studied comments made at legislative hearings and I just don’t understand why it is such a big deal to those who favor it. But neither can I understand the passion of those who oppose voter ID.
Listen to advocates and you would think that if we don’t pass a voter ID bill we will never have another fair and impartial election. I don’t object to the notion, but nobody can produce any hard evidence showing there is enough voter fraud to get excited about, or that having an ID would fix what little fraud does exist. Everyone who registers is issued a voter registration card and it is my understanding the law says you are supposed to produce it when you vote, but nobody has ever asked to see mine. What makes us believe they will be more inclined to ask for a photo ID?
Listen to the vehemence of opponents and you would think voter ID will return us to Jim Crow. The Reverend William Barber, a smart man, calls this a modern-day poll tax. I’m having trouble making that connection. I hope we have reached a point where nobody can or is able to disenfranchise any citizen from the opportunity to vote because of sex or race, but how does requiring an ID become discrimination? You have to show identification to fly, to drive, to purchase over the counter drugs, get credit or cash a check, go to the hospital and a growing number of employers require picture ID’s, none of which are considered discriminatory. There is a rapidly dwindling percentage of people without some form of legitimate identification and ways we could economically assist those who don’t have it.
The plain truth is voter ID has become the poster child for partisan politics. It is such a social agenda item with the right that if they don’t pass it they will lose face with their base. Those on the left are no better in trying to frame this as race and class baiting. Voter ID has become a placeholder, if you will, for a philosophical and ideological battle yet to be waged – the next election. Whoever wins, most likely Republicans, will boast that they are effective in preserving democracy. Whoever loses, likely Democrats, will claim they are being disenfranchised using this as a rallying cry.
Polls show the majority of our citizens favor voter ID but don’t take too much stock in these surveys. If asked, most people would likely favor the abolishment of taxes while at the same time wanting the government to provide free medical care, housing and food.
We’ve held fair and honest elections for many years without having to produce a picture when we vote and can continue to do so. On the other hand citizens in a democracy have some responsibility and producing proof of identity at the polls is a small effort. Here’s my message to both sides of the voter ID controversy: Focus people. We’ve got some pretty big problems in our state and this isn’t one of them. After we’ve resolved all the big stuff you will have plenty of time to major in minors.
Campbell, a former assistate state treasurer, is the creator and host NC Spin, a weekly panel discussion on state issues that airs on public television.