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Can I See Some I.D.?

by Miriam Axel-Lute on May 24, 2012 · 2 comments


When Kristen Eck of Delaware Avenue, Albany, went to vote on the school budget last week, she took note of the signs saying ID was required. So did one of the people behind her in line, who left without voting because she didn’t have her ID with her. If one in 10 voters were dissuaded from voting by the requirement just while she was there, Eck wondered, how big an effect was this requirement having on turnout citywide?

A registered voter does not need to show ID to vote under state election law. However, school votes fall instead under state education law, under which school districts may choose to require proof of address (not photo ID), and it appears that many do.

Ron Lesko, spokesperson for the Albany City School District, said the policy has been in place since 1997, and is intended to prevent voter fraud. However, “our process is structured to promote in every way possible participation by everyone of voting age in our community in all budget votes and elections.” Voters in the registry who can confirm their address and birth date may sign a declaration and those not in the registry may sign an affidavit that is later confirmed. They get about 10 of each year.

That’s good to know, but since the signs at the polls say to produce ID, it doesn’t address those who leave because they believe they will not be allowed to vote.

I don’t want to pick on Albany schools. It’s just hard for me not to think about this in the context of the current national conversation on voting rights. Voter ID requirements, are, unfortunately, the latest (as in post-2008) favorite voter suppression tool of the Republican Party, after they successfully sabotaged organizations that successfully registered lots of poor people to vote.

There are currently 32 state voter ID laws that have been passed, 16 of which require photo ID, and 8 of which are “strict photo ID,” meaning there are no alternative options. Voter ID laws–adding or strengthening them–were on the ballot in 34 states in 2011.

The supposed rationale for these laws is voter fraud, as in someone voting under someone else’s registration. But voter ID proponents can’t come up with examples of actual voter fraud. Not even a couple clear cut cases. It’s certainly not happening in numbers that justify risking suppressing the vote of a far larger number of qualified voters. The Washington Post ran an editorial recently calling voter ID laws “a solution in search of a problem.”

The problem is a political one. Voter ID laws discriminate. The poor, people of color, the very young, and the very old are all less likely to have photo ID. Women, 90 percent of whom change their names with marriage, are more likely to not have ID that matches their voter registration. What do these groups have in common? They all tend to vote Democratic.

The politics are so blatant, it’s astounding. What’s next? A poll tax? A literacy test?

Now, I don’t think the Albany school district or its brethren have any nefarious motives for their much older ID requirements. Frankly, I can’t see how it would be in their self interest to reduce turnout among populations who seem likely to be supporters of public education. But given what’s going on in the rest of the country, it worries me that we have a precedent for New York voters getting used to showing ID at the polls. I think it makes it less clear in voters’ minds that New York does not allow that for any other elections, and it is likely to weaken the resistance we ought to show if a voter ID law were being proposed here.

I think it would be the right thing to do for school districts and the state ed department to make their voting practices and rules consistent with New York State Election Law for this reason.

And meanwhile, I have a suggestion that should address both the concerns of those who might be legitimately worried about voter fraud and those who are concerned about voter rights and turnout. You can’t get away with pretending to be another voter if that voter shows up and votes under their own registration. So let’s put our energies into attempting to achieve full voter turnout: Make Election Day a national or state holiday. Support paid time off for voting, GOTV campaigns, expanded polling hours, ride to the polls programs, early voting programs, and anything else we can think of to make voting something that everyone eligible can do and does do, every time.