Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Photo ID and Republican values

The more I think about it, the more that the photo voter ID amendment seems like a profoundly un-Republican idea. At its heart, the photo ID amendment is an extension of a surveillance state that Republicans profess to abhor.

You see, I can't reconcile Republican themes of "get government out of the way," "we need common sense in government," and "let local government decide" with this amendment. It is a big government policy that defies common sense while destroying local control.

Photo ID is a big government policy

The Republican Party's recent superficial rediscovery of libertarianism was an attempt to wash the Bush stink out of their hair after 2008. All that talk of "freedom" and "liberty" was heady, but the nationwide push for photo ID reveals a continual push toward a surveillance state. But there is a significant part of the Republican electorate that is skeptical or strongly opposed to a national ID card, and the push for government-issue ID requirements for voting is a stepping stone along that path.

Opposition to a national ID card has long been a feature of the libertarian and evangelical right in America. This opposition frustrated implementation of the 2005 REAL ID act that sought to standardize state-issued driver's licenses. Evangelicals have railed against national identification as the "mark of the beast," based on a prophesy in the book of Revelations. Libertarians have long criticized the ever expanding powers of surveillance. In many ways, the rhetoric of Republican sponsors of photo ID is acquiescence to the surveillance state. "You have to show an ID to buy cigarettes, cash a check, etc."

Is it a Republican value to continue the push toward a Big Brother surveillance state where your ID is used for everything?

Photo ID is a bureaucratic policy that defies common sense

Photo ID will result in situations where a person who is personally known to everybody in a polling place is denied the ability to vote. Imagine a voter from a small town, a tight-knit neighborhood or a precinct in a nursing home. Even if everybody in the precinct knows who the voter is and knows where they live, this amendment says that they need an ID to vote. "I'm sorry John, I've known you my whole life and everyone else here knows you too, but the law says you can't vote because your driver's license is expired." Seriously? I mean, how ridiculous is that?

This is exactly what Republicans complain about all the time, a bunch of bureaucrats making a decision on the basis of policy even when it defies common sense. This situation isn't a crazy hypothetical either. Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer made that clear in the floor debate last night. When asked about nursing home residents who have expired ID cards because they no longer drive, Kiffmeyer was emphatic - "they would have to make that ID valid."

Is it a Republican value to create a new bureaucratic dictate that requires election judges to cast aside their common sense? To tell their next door neighbor that they can't vote because their driver's license expired last week, and therefore they can't be sure who they are?

Photo ID destroys local control

There are thousands of precincts in Minnesota and they are not all alike. Many voters in rural Minnesota vote by mail, which saves local governments money and saves voters a long trip to the polls. Minnesota residents who are overseas because they are serving their country cannot return to cast a ballot at their home precinct. Voting needs to be fairly uniform, but election laws allow voting by mail so that rural residents and voters who cannot vote on the day of the election are not disenfranchised.

Despite Rep. Kiffmeyer and Sen. Newman's assurances that the phrase "substantially equivalent" would allow for mail voting to continue, but there is no way for these voters to show their photo ID at the polls. We don't know what the courts would decide is "substantially equivalent," and we'll have to wait until next year to find out what the Legislature will do with the amendment if it passes. Despite Rep. Kiffmeyer's assurances last night, I believe what Senator Newman has said repeatedly, "it depends on what the Legislature does."

Is it a Republican value to impose a uniform system on counties and townships that have adopted common sense procedures that make sense for their communities?

Photo ID polls well, and Republicans appear united in favor of it. But I'm not quite as quick as some to concede that it will pass, nor do I think that Republicans will universally support it. Many of the themes that Republican voters value can be turned against Photo ID.

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