Voter ID Legislation is Unconstitutional
Among the litany of bad public policies emerging from the 89th General Assembly in Arkansas, this one may be the most destructive and longest lasting.
State Sen. Bryan King from Carroll County — just northeast of our Fayetteville campus — introduced his legislation to require all voters to show a form of photo identification in order to cast a ballot.
You may be asking, “Why shouldn’t you have to prove who you are to vote?” One of my fellow students here at the UA echoed this question in a column on Wednesday.
It’s a simple answer, enshrined at least two different places in the U.S. Constitution. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution reads, in part, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”
In short, why should there be any hurdle to casting a ballot, a sacred duty of every American citizen, enshrined in our founding documents and defended by men and women in uniform every day?
The real answer to why the new Republican majority in the legislature wants a voter identification law is equally easy, and much less noble than the stated goal of protecting the ballot. It is proven, in studies like the one conducted by Timothy Vercellotti and David Anderson at Rutgers University, voter ID laws negatively influence the turnout of minority voters — voters much less likely to support Republican candidates.
In the new HBO series “The Newsroom,” fictional anchor Will McAvoy makes a very concise statement on why voter ID laws have become so popular: “This would be called a solution without a problem, but it’s not. It’s just a solution to a different problem. Republicans have a hard time getting certain people to vote for them, so life would be a lot easier if certain people just weren’t allowed to vote at all.”
Aside from the fact that voter ID laws are a solution in search of a problem, they are also extremely costly to the state. Republicans almost always underestimate the cost to get the program passed, then put the burden of enforcing the new restrictive laws on existing bureaucracy.
What’s funny is they can’t — or won’t — answer how they are going to pay for providing a new ID to voters — obviously at no cost since we don’t want to create a new poll tax, wink wink. They won’t tell us how they will pay to notify voters they have to get a new ID or what the new rules are. They won’t tell us how they will pay for new ID machines and forms for processing voter ID requests. And they certainly won’t tell us how they will pay for all the new provisional ballots disenfranchised voters will cast only to be thrown out because they didn’t have the proper ID.
Now they tell us they won’t enact this legislation until the state has money to pay for free ID cards for everyone. I’m not buying it.
Plain and simple, Republican legislators cannot win with minority populations on policy. So rather than adapt or change policy, they have to find a way to keep those folks from voting. Voila, voter identification laws.
The sad fact is with a current GOP majority and some less-than-stalwart Democrats in the legislature, voter ID may easily pass. The unfortunate part is the taxpayers of Arkansas will have to foot the bill for these new costs and when we are taken to court over the potential unconstitutionality of our new policies.
The legislators know exactly what they’re doing when they try to bring back exclusionary voting laws that limit the citizenship of a certain part of our population. They just hope we’re too stupid or lazy to figure it out and call them on it.
When I consider these proposals, I cannot help but think on the men who died to bring the ballot to a population that was enslaved. Or the women who were beaten, jailed and ostracized for seeking suffrage. Or the marchers at Selma and Montgomery. We have come too far to turn back to any policy that limits access to the ballot.
Will Watson is a graduate student in the public administration program and is a staff columnist for the Arkansas Traveler.