Getting the runaround at the polls

By Barbara Shelly

Kansas City Star

A judge in Pennsylvania last week put a hold on the state’s new voter ID law. Citizens will not be required to produce government-issued photo identification in order to have their vote count on Nov. 6.

That must be a disappointment to the Republican state legislative leader who had exulted upon the law’s passage that “this is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

And, in fact, polls showed that a majority of voters in the Keystone State generally support the notion of producing a photo ID at the polls.

But I was in Pennsylvania just a week ago, and found a much different sentiment in my small focus group — that being my mom and her pals in her senior residence.

Particularly aggrieved, with good reason, was my mother’s neighbor, Mary Edith Knox.

Her task was to renew her non-driver’s ID. So she phoned the proper state office and inquired as to how to do that. She was told to report to the commonwealth auto tag office near her residence.

Knox’s daughter-in-law took time off work to drive her there. Knox filled out an application, and then was instructed to report to the driver’s license bureau in another town, about 20 miles away, to get her photo taken.

Brilliant. Here is a lady in her 80s who doesn’t drive, and the state makes her travel to two locations to obtain an ID card to be able to vote.

Between the two offices, Knox paid $29.

Wrong direction

After a little investigating, we deduced Knox was wrongly directed to the auto tag office. Also, if she had known how to go about it, she should have been able to obtain the non-driver’s license free of charge. But how would she have known? The worker I talked to sounded confused herself.

If a state is going to place requirements on voting, it had darned well better make it easy and convenient for people to meet those requirements. Why not a mobile van to make the rounds of senior housing and get people fixed up with ID cards on the spot?

Then again, why require photo ID at all?

Instances of people voting under false identities are minuscule. One study found 10 cases since 2000. Another found fewer than one case of fraud per state per year, and that included offenses such as using the wrong address.

Perhaps so, proponents say. But we need a photo ID to purchase liquor. We need one to cash a check, and to fly. Why shouldn’t we demand one for voting?

Well, you can find someone else to buy you a six-pack. You can endorse a check and have a friend cash it for you. If you really have to get somewhere, you can find a way.

But there’s no way to make your vote count except by voting. And only you can cast your ballot.

By requiring people to navigate layers of bureaucracy to obtain documents, states are impeding a basic right of citizenship.

In Missouri, we have a Republican candidate for secretary of state who is basing much of his campaign on a pledge to making voting more difficult.

Kansas already has one of the nation’s most draconian voter ID laws, the full effect of which won’t be seen until next year.

States don’t have enough money to run their schools or care for developmentally disabled citizens. Yet they’re keen to pass voter ID laws, which will require a huge investment of staff time, equipment upgrades and other expenses if they’re to work at all. No wonder courts in many states are putting holds on these laws or striking them down.

Senior citizens

I believe the underlying rationale for voter ID laws is to discourage voting in immigrant and minority communities. But in their rush to do so, lawmakers are hurting America’s most revered demographic, its seniors.

“I am being charged $29 for the right to vote.” said Knox. She describes herself as a political junkie, who hasn’t missed an election in decades.

“The basic idea of having photo ID is sound, but it’s not workable,” Knox said.

Or necessary, I would add.

Barbara Shelly is a columnist for the Kansas City Star. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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