Riff Raff: Your papers, please

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 433 views 

It was as if I announced intent to get naked before voting. Or begin to debate, like all the cool kids are doing, penis size. Immediate looks from several poll workers were of semi shock. The poll worker dealing with me said she wasn’t going to process my attempt to vote. Several minutes of chaos ensued.

All I did was decline to provide ID.

Early on election day there were a few social media reports of poll workers requiring – or attempting to require – folks to have a photo ID before voting. Such reports were from several counties. The idea to not provide ID during my voting trip resulted from thinking that surely the social media reports were wrong or overdramatized.

They weren’t.

The first sign of a possible problem were signs at the polling site noting: “Please have I.D. ready.”  (See inset photo.) The clear sign of a problem was when the poll worker asked for my ID and I declined to provide it and instead gave my name, address and date of birth. She again asked for ID. I declined. She then said it was required. When I again declined and asked to vote, the poll worker got up and made it known she was not going to process my vote. That’s fine, I noted, but someone might want to call an election commissioner and bone up on state law. The line behind me was growing. This was all getting awkward. I began to understand the social media reports of others simply walking out when poll workers refused to process a vote without ID.

Sign at a polling site in Fort Smith, Ark., on primary election day (March 1).
Sign at a polling site in Fort Smith, Ark., on primary election day (March 1).

Ultimately, cooler heads prevailed. A poll worker who understood the law stepped in. She wasn’t happy about it, and looks from poll workers and those standing in line, and all the fuss and delay might have embarrassed folks who possess the ability to be embarrassed. Within a few minutes, I voted (did not vote for Donald Drumpf) and was on my way.

Part of being on my way included a call to David Damron, chairman of the Sebastian County Election Commission. After briefing him on my experience, Damron immediately apologized. He said the commission “did all it could” to ensure “poll workers have been trained,” with such training included rules about ID. Having known Mr. Damron for several years, I believed him. He’s a good guy – the type who wants the process to be smooth for all voters and poll workers.

But Damron is a lifelong Republican. And party politics and the politics of voter ID come with nuances that must be addressed. And the politics are that Republicans have convinced themselves vote fraud is such a problem that only voter ID laws will protect the sacred ballot – because how else did we get a black president when less than 15% of the country is black?

Arkansas Republican legislators passed a strict voter ID law in 2013, which required proof of identity to vote. It was vetoed by Gov. Mike Beebe (D) who said the action was “an expensive solution in search of a problem” and was “an unnecessary measure that would negatively impact one of our most precious rights as citizens.” His veto was overridden by lawmakers along party lines.

Arkansas’ conservative Supreme Court struck down the law with a 7-0 vote. 7-0. Seven to Zip. From a conservative court. In striking down the law in October 2014, the state’s high court said it did not pass constitutional muster because it required an “additional qualification” beyond four requirements in the state’s Constitution.

To Beebe’s point, voter fraud has historically had little to do with ID presentation. Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School who focuses on constitutional law, found 31 incidents of possible voter ID fraud between 2000 and 2014. In that same time more than 1 billion ballots were voted. During that same time 3,000 voters in just four states with the toughest ID laws were turned away, according to Levitt’s research.

“Some of those 3,000 may have been fraudulent ballots. But how many legitimate voters have already been turned away?” Levitt noted.

Most research reports indicate that voter fraud related to voter ID is negligible. Analysis in a report researched by political scientists from Appalachian State University, Texas Tech and the University of Florida, found that “there simply is no widespread, concerted, and systematic evidence that some voters go to the polls impersonating someone else to cast a vote to benefit one of the political parties.”

The report also included an interesting assessment of the genesis of recent voter ID laws: “Specifically, the Republican Party has proved incapable of expanding its appeal among the much faster growing minority electorate – which just so happens to exhibit notably lower turnout rates vis-à-vis the stagnant non-Hispanic white electorate that is more supportive of Republican candidates. Faced with this reality, the GOP appears to have opted for coalition maintenance instead of coalition expansion, by embracing several restrictive voting reforms whose true purpose is to marginally curtail the participation of voters typically aligned with the Democratic Party.”

Which brings us back to the conversation with Damron. He proferred several sentences to convince me that providing ID was in my best interest in that it expedited the process.

“We ask for ID to aid the process in locating the voter on the voter roll,” Damron explained.

He most likely genuinely believes that to be true. But I call bullshit. My experience was that there was no discernible difference between providing ID and simply providing name, address and birth date. It was also suggested that precinct signs should be used that note ID is allowed but not necessary.

“Maybe they need to be reworded,” Damron said when asked about language used on the signs.

No, not maybe. They need to be reworded. Or better yet, removed.

Because an editor once encouraged me to not attribute to malice what could be better assigned to poor judgment, let’s believe for now that such incidents were errors and not an effort by Republican election officials to push voter ID requirements in defiance of legal rulings.

Either malice or poor judgment, let’s hope it gets fixed, because no one needs to see me vote nekkid.