The War on Voting Comes Home

Republicans hate it when people vote. Despite what the people over at Fox So-Called News say, this really is a center-left nation, and when lots of people vote, it hurts Republican candidates.

As Paul Weyrich, the co-founder of ALEC said in 1980 when he was helping run the Reagan campaign, Republican chances in elections go up as the number of people turning out to vote goes down:

“I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Flash-forward to today and it’s clear that Republicans have listened closely to what Paul Weyrich was talking about way back in 1980.

At the behest of ALEC – the group Paul Weyrich founded – GOP-controlled states all across the nation have, over the past few years, put into place harsh new laws requiring people to have government-issued IDs in order to vote.

Republicans say these voter ID laws protect against “voter fraud,” but really they’re only there for one reason and one reason alone: to keep people – mostly minorities and other Democratic-leaning groups – away from the polls.

Make no mistake about it: getting an ID is not easy and it’s not practical. I know this from personal experience.

Earlier this morning I went down to the Washington, D.C. DMV to get my new driver’s license renewed. Other than a vision test, the requirements to get a driver’s license are the same as the requirements to get a voter ID, so the crap I went through this morning to get a new driver’s license is just like what people in North Carolina and Texas have to go through if they want to vote.

Even though I’d checked out the DMV’s website and brought with me my passport, my driver’s license, my pilot’s license, a credit-card statement from my bank, and my electric bill, when I got there, the clerk said that my Social Security number being on my pilot’s license wasn’t adequate. So I went home and rummaged through old papers to find the Social Security card I’d had re-issued a decade ago in Portland.

When I returned to the DMV for my second visit, I noticed that the Social Security office had dropped the last “N” from my name, so there was a difference in the spelling of my name between my Social Security card and my passport. Forget that every other piece of paper I had all had my name spelled with two “N’s” at the end – the clerk still sent me home to get a W2 or a 1099 with my Social Security number on it.

I got the W2 and then went back to the DMV for a third time. But this time, the clerk looked at my credit card statement – which is from one of the largest banks in the country – and said, “This isn’t a bank statement. It’s a credit-card statement.” When I pointed out it was a “statement” from a “bank” and it even said “statement at the top in big letters the clerk got very in my face and basically yelled at me that she knew the difference between a credit card statement and a bank statement and apparently I didn’t and I’d have to go home and figure it out.

So I went back home and found a checking account statement and went back to the DMV for the fourth time. This time I got a very nice guy who told me that the error on my Social Security card was no big deal and that the credit card statement was all he needed. He then went ahead and gave me my driver’s license.

Total time spent traveling and standing in line? Three hours.

Here’s the point: None of the people at the DMV were trying to prevent me from getting my driver’s license – they were just doing their jobs as they thought best.

But what if this was my mostly-white home town of Lansing, Michigan and I was trying to get an ID to vote and I was black?

Or what if I was poor enough that I didn’t have a bank statement because I didn’t have a bank account? And what if I was long-term unemployed and therefore didn’t have a W2? And, of course, what if I didn’t have a passport and a pilot’s license or even a driver’s license?

And, even worse, what if I didn’t own my own business – this show – but instead worked for a boss who was going to dock my pay or fire me if I spent three hours away from work trying to get an ID?

You get the idea. Getting an ID for a relatively well-off white guy like me is a hassle, but for poor people and minorities – the people who, by and large, don’t have IDs and are the target of Republican voter suppression laws – it can be such an insurmountable obstacle that many of them will just give up and go home.

All that just to vote? I have other things to do with my time.

In-person voter fraud is so rare in the U.S. that more people die from having TVs fall on their heads than commit voter fraud. Nobody is willing to risk going to prison to vote illegally – it just pretty much doesn’t happen. Murder happens far more often.

But to prevent this non-event, Republicans have thrown up this huge ID barrier for all the Americans who live in urban areas where they don’t need a car, or are poor enough they’ll never own a car, or disabled or elderly or college students.

Paul Weyrich is dead, but his creation, ALEC, lives on. And with the help of its cronies in the Republican party, it continues to push for voter ID laws in state after state, condemning tens of millions of Americans to go through the nonsense I went through this morning, or, even worse, to simply say, “Screw it,” and not even bother to vote.

Today for me, the war on voting came home. But for all the Americans living in states that have voter suppression ID laws, the worst is yet to come with elections just a few months down the road.