Jean Barker

America’s got (voter ID) issues

2014-10-17 08:51

Jean Barker

I'm a little annoyed with democracy. I believe it's a human right, of course. But then again so is the right to have kids, and so is the right to free speech… and what most people or their idiot offspring have to say about running the world is your basic verbal Ebola.

I find nation states to be clumsy concepts, especially when they all essentially report to the USA, a country that has trouble running itself properly, or to China. Yes Zuma, I’m talking to you.

However, belonging to a country, singing cheeseball anthems, and voting for a future that politicians will ruin anyhow, remains a universal human right. To translate for the trolls out there, that means everybody should have this right. Yes, everybody.

Lately, the USA’s voter ID laws have been hitting the headlines. As a South African, I laughed when I first heard it argued – mostly by Democrats - that ID shouldn’t be required at polling stations.

My reaction was simple: People, what is wrong with you? I have approximately six forms of legal ID in my apartment right now! I have enough internationally accepted identification to start a small fascist nation right here right now! If it’s too much trouble to go stand in line at the DMV for three hours to get an ID then you don’t appreciate your voting rights enough to deserve them at all!

This, is turns out, is the same argument that Republicans make. Because I'm always suspicious of any opinion of mine that Republicans share, I investigated a little further, and found out why voter ID laws are such an issue for the left and centre.

Democrats publicly oppose the law not so much on principle, as for reasons related to the realities of life in America. Minorities are more likely to have trouble getting the right ID, and less likely to need it as a matter of course. They're likely to reside in poorer, less central areas that are further from places where IDs are issued, and America is a big enough country that this really matters. Minorities are less likely to own a car and therefore less likely to need a license. Minorities (and young people) are also more likely to move from state to state, which means their existing ID becomes invalid more often. Minorities, for language reasons, often have trouble getting ID once they show up at places like the DMV.  

Minorities are also more likely to vote Democratic.

Democrats also oppose the laws is because of the intention behind them, which is, essentially, anti-Democratic. Republicans know all about the things that prevent minorities having valid ID. They know minorities are less likely to have ID and more likely to be carded at the polls. They want to make sure they're turned away in their numbers. Republicans have serious trouble winning elections if they allow non-whites and young people to go to the polls in their numbers.

Still, the idea of being allowed to vote without showing ID is strange to me. Imagine anyone could vote without ID in South Africa? Cape Town would probably wind up being run by German tourists (if it isn't already) or by 14-year-olds (if it isn’t already).

Ultimately, I believe the solution is not as much to repeal the voter ID laws, or fight about whether they're good or bad. The right approach to solving this problem would be to make sure that everybody who wants valid ID has it before the next elections. This was an issue last election. Why hasn't something been done about it in the last four years – by individuals, or by administration?

Even though I've become cynical about the power of democracy over the years, I still believe everybody should have the experience of casting a ballot. I remember the first time I voted, clutching my new green ID book in my hand. The anxiety... the adrenaline... I would have done anything to stand in line that day in 1994.

Turns out, it was too much for me. I vomited up the R2 veg bunny chow I bought at a cafe on the Durban beachfront. All in all? A touching, unforgettable rite of passage into adulthood.

- Jean earned an MFA in Directing and Screenwriting and works in the LA film industry. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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