On Election Day, the hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts likes to vote in the AM when walking children to school. And every election cycle, I remember why voter ID laws are pretty popular despite the fact that it creates a barrier to entry for some people who want to vote (though then again, it may not). There’s some evidence that Texas’s new voter ID laws might be suppressing turnout, and the issue is not going to go away anytime soon.
In the abstract, whenever I read about this issue, I tend to disapprove of more stringent voter ID laws. There’s a disturbing legacy of poll taxes in the United States, and there are ways in which the ID requirement is tantamount to such a tax. Also, despite the recent kerfuffle about this issue over at the Monkey Cage, there’s scant direct evidence of voter fraud.
I tend to feel this way right up until I enter my polling place and do not have to show any form of identification. I just have to give someone my address and presto, I’m giving a ballot. And every time this happens, it gnaws at me.
The problem is that in our post-9/11 security theater kind of world, middle-class folks like me are now used to showing ID for a lot of reasons. Taking a flight? Have to show ID. Taking a train? Pull out your driver’s license. Check into a hotel? Odds are now better than 50-50 that I’ll need to show an ID in addition to a credit card. Enter an important building? Oh yes, identification will be needed.
Because I am now so used to presenting an ID in my life, not having to present one in a polling station is weirdly jarring. It automatically causes my mind to think about just how easy it would be to vote fraudulently — even if it doesn’t happen. The ease of getting a ballot in comparison to getting a plane ticket also, oddly, cheapens the process. Somehow voting doesn’t seem as important if it’s so easy to do.
Now I know that this common-sense reaction is only common sense to me because I’m a middle-class white guy who gets the occasional free burrito. The whole point of making it easier to vote is lowering the transaction costs for people who don’t fly or drive or check into hotels on a regular basis. But the point of this post is that even if that argument makes sense, the rise of security theater elsewhere in our daily lives makes the absence of it while voting seem strange. And I suspect it’s that strangeness that voting activists will have to combat if they want to prevent stricter voter ID laws.