NICK AND TIRED: Indiana's voting legislation inhibits civic engagement
Nick Siano is a sophomore telecommunications and journalism major and writes "Nick and Tired" for the Daily News. His views do not necessarily agree with those of the newspaper. Write to Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Election season is like Christmas to me, in that it starts earlier and earlier every year and I find more things wrong with it the older I get. Case in point: the disastrous voting legislation enacted throughout Indiana.
Hoosiers have been dragged into national spotlight because of the fine men and women in our legislature passing laws that were met with loving fanfare like SB 101, the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA), and HB 1337, the sweeping anti-abortion bill that is hated by Republicans and Democrats alike. So why aren’t we outraged at long-standing legislation that discriminates against a myriad of demographics having equal access to the fundamental right of voting?
Indiana requires voters to have state-issued photo identification, does not allow for on-site voter registration and requires absentee voters to have an excuse for being away from their home county. All of these measures have valid arguments for their inclusion in election policy, but they inhibit the level of civic engagement that could be reached in their absence. Let's just say 2,624,534 Hoosiers voted in the 2012 presidential election, but about 4,968,880 were eligible.
Requiring voters to have identification is like enacting poll taxes, which, as we learned in high school, were widespread in the South following the Civil War to suppress the voices of black voters. Whether it’s for the ID itself or the documents required to obtain that ID, no one should be putting money down to vote.
The state’s laws have been put under the greatest level of national scrutiny, having travelled to the Supreme Court in 2008 in the form of Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. The plaintiff argued that the law would impose undue burden on voters, especially from low-income areas. The defendant ensured the court that the laws were in place to prevent voter fraud. When the two parties were asked to procure witnesses for either argument, they could not follow through, and the court ruled in favor of the defendant. The ruling was issued in April 2008. In May, about 12 nuns were turned away from the polls because they had insufficient identification. None of the nuns had a license. Throughout the state, college students were also denied access to the polls.
From this evidence, such strict voter ID requirements are elaborate solutions searching for a problem. Proponents for the laws fail to demonstrate that in-person voter fraud, the only type of fraud that could be prevented by showing state-issued ID, is a problem. In fact, Sen. Cory Booker once said, “You’re more likely to get struck by lightning in Texas” when asked about the likelihood of in-person voter fraud being a problem.
It turns out he was right. According to Politifact, there is one instance of in-person voter fraud for every 18 million ballots, and there is a one in 1.35 million chance that a person would be struck by lightning in Texas.
Requiring government-issued ID at the polls boils down to being a discriminatory practice. The Brennan Center estimates that 25 percent of African-Americans do not have government-issued IDs. According to an NPR article, the cause of this stems back to cultural and economic disparities African-Americans faced in the early 1900s.
Older African-Americans may not have birth certificates, as they may have been born in family homes instead of hospitals, delivered by midwives instead of doctors. But that’s not for lack of trying to get into hospitals. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, African-Americans were routinely turned away from medical centers. But even for the families who were granted entrance, Dr. Jim Crow probably wasn’t too eager to record the birth.
Voting legislation is not a socially-charged topic on the surface. There’s no flag to fly when the court rules in your favor, and no puns about bodily functions to put on picket signs. But it’s a serious problem, and a misguided step backward from expanding our voting rights.