Welfare and the Voter ID Debate

Now that the presidential election year 2012 has begun, the debate over voter registration is going to heat up again. I am in absolutely no way an expert on that subject, but there is one angle to this that I find curious. A common argument against requiring ID of people who vote is that it disenfranchises the poor, the low-income and other groups branded as disadvantaged by the left. As a sign that this issue is once again heating up, many left-leaning bloggers have been regurgitating an October 2011 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU Law School, according to which…

These voting law changes are radical and completely unnecessary. They especially hurt those who have been historically locked out of our electoral system, like minorities, poor people, and students.

Two of the main “disenfranchising” legal measures criticized by the study are a photo-ID requirement to vote, and that you can prove your citizenship. These two, which essentially go hand in hand, break down to an ability to prove, again with a valid ID card, that you are who you claim to be.

Making sure that only citizens can vote in a national election is an absolutely fundamental feature of any representative democracy. It is in fact a major component of national sovereignty. I grew up in Sweden, where I voted in five national elections. To be able to do so I had to prove that I was who I claimed to be. Same thing the one time I voted in local elections in Denmark: as a citizen of another Nordic country I was not permitted to vote in the national election, but I could elect my local representatives. I had to show an ID that proved my limited eligibility.

If they can do it in Scandinavia, we can do it here, too.

The argument that the poor do not have an ID is a bit bizarre, to be perfectly honest. Yet the argument is made over and over again, most recently by the ACLU against a voter ID law in Pennsylvania. From the Philadelphia Weekly:

The bill is opposed by several local and state groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the Committee of Seventy.  In an email blast yesterday, Seventy wrote, “The non-partisan Committee of Seventy opposes this voter ID bill. It especially hurts minority, low-income and senior voters who are more likely to lack an acceptable ID.

The key word here is “income”. If you earn an income, you obviously get compensated for work you do for someone. Most people who make an income get paid in either of two ways: by direct deposit into a bank account, or by paper check. If you get a direct deposit, that means you have a bank account. If you have a bank account, that means you walked in to a bank one day and asked to open a bank account. To be able to do that you had to produce a valid photo ID. (There might even be a law that requires you to produce an ID to open a bank account.) To maintain your account – i.e., to be able to get new checks, make cash withdrawals or renew your ATM card – you need to possess a valid photo ID. Therefore, you already have a valid photo ID in your wallet and there is nothing for the ACLU to lament about.

If you get paid by paper check, and do not have a bank account, you will need to somehow cash that check. You can do it at your employer’s bank, but they won’t let you cash it unless you have a valid photo ID. If you don’t take it to the bank you might try one of the checks-into-cash outfits, but they are even stricter in requiring a photo ID.

If you don’t have an income, you must make a living some other way. Provided you are not a full-blown criminal, you are on welfare. You get the full assortment of tax-paid, government-provided acronyms: TANF, SNAP, WIC… You get Medicaid, subsidized rent etc. In order to get the cash benefits you need to have – again – a bank account or a place to cash a check. To get in to income-restricted public housing and on to Medicaid you need to prove eligibility. How do you do that without showing a valid ID at some point?

Unless our states are frivolously doling out welfare benefits to people without asking for ID, there should be an ID in the pocket of every American who wants to vote, except full-blown criminals, illegal immigrants and aliens from other planets. Which reduces the voter ID question to those very same groups.

Personally, I am OK with denying felons and Klingons the right to vote. As for the rest of us, we should say “Hell Yes” to voter ID. It is a matter of protecting the one-man-one-vote principle, and a matter of national sovereignty.

One comment

  1. Smith

    I believe some states at least have included a measure that says that the state DMV will provide an ID, FREE of charge, if a peron can not afford one. Given this measure, I don’t understand how various groups continue to allege that legitimate photo IDs are a problem for the poor. Additionally, to my knowledge, most university students have photo IDs through their university, which acts as their library card, etc.