A right for more than just the ‘right people’

Republican lawmakers in West Virginia eager to approve a measure that would require voters to show a photo identification card at the polls liken the requirement to having an ID for cashing a check or driving a car or buying a beer.

It’s ironic to see these lawmakers liken voting to such activities and then argue that requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls somehow helps to maintain the integrity of the process. If anything, such a requirement exposes the process to corruption by making it more difficult for certain populations to vote, but even worse, it confuses what is a right with what is a privilege and changes how we should understand ourselves as citizens.

The chief architect of the proposal, House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, claims such a requirement of West Virginia voters would be no real imposition. After all, he says, most state residents already have a photo ID and there are far more issued driver’s licenses in West Virginia than there are registered voters. Armstead says the measure would be supplemented with getting IDs for elderly citizens, such as those in nursing homes and the cost would be paid for with Help America Vote Act funds. But is that really necessary?

And helpful or not, photo ID requirements have been likened to poll taxes and with good reason. Both form a barrier placed by one group that makes the free exercise of a right by another group more difficult. Such a barrier is alien to our rights as citizens. Indeed, embedded in our political process is the notion that the right to vote is not granted like a privilege, but is preserved to citizens, as shown by the passage of the 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th amendments.

Republican lawmakers’ concern for the integrity of the system is misguided, at best, and at worst appears driven by the need to flex some political muscle now that the party has made some significant gains in the House following the last election. They would do well instead to consider suggestions by Secretary of State Natalie Tennant that call for updating voter rolls, adopting electronically updated poll books and working to minimize the incidence of long lines on Election day.

Prosecution for election fraud nationwide is miniscule and Photo IDs would not have prevented the ballot stuffing that occurred in Lincoln County last year, which was successfully prosecuted. Indeed, the type of fraud feared by Republicans is the equivalent of meeting on the stair, in the poem Antigonish, a “little man who wasn’t there.”

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