By Greg Moses
“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” used to be a simple test for figuring out whether there ought to be a law. In the case of laws to require photo ID for voting, there is nothing broken and nothing that needs fixing. So why, in state after state, are Republicans fixing things that don’t need fixing while ignoring so many other things that do?
“You have to show ID to rent a video at Blockbuster,” said Texas sponsor of the photo ID bill Mary Denny to the AP. “That’s something simple and not nearly as sacred to us as casting our vote.”
Denny yesterday sounded just like a top Republican attorney from Atlanta last month who told the Texas Civil Rights Review that “photo IDs are required to rent movies.” Unless something different happens in Texas, this photo ID bill will pass on party-line votes just like it did in Georgia and in several other states where Republicans dominate the legislatures.
Republicans heading up these efforts do not claim that there is an ID problem among current voters. That’s not what’s broken. Rather, they say the problem is that voters are failing to behave like corporate customers and they say it like it’s a problem that needs fixing. They say it like we should be ashamed of ourselves for not behaving more like Blockbuster customers when it comes time to exercise our sacred right to vote.
Our best guess for why this is really happening? It is part of the Republican strategy to better manage the voting pool. As election analysts repeat time and again, the more voters in the pool there are, the more likely Democrats are to win, because try as they might, Democrats can’t shake the image of being the party most helpful to most people. So in the game of percentages, why wouldn’t the Republican Party want to keep the voting pool from growing?
And for Democrats who still think struggle is imperative, the game of percentages works exactly the other way. The more welcoming the voting process becomes, the more likely Democratic victory will be.
You might think that the Democratic calculation would get a groundswell of support from American citizens jealous to guard their inalienable rights to vote. You know, keep the government off our backs, and that kind of thing. But there are head games at play here that for some people make even the simple percentages very difficult to see.
In order to get inside the head game of this voter ID issue, first you have to put on your suit and climb into your Escalade. From this vantage point you can drive around from place to place, cutting across lanes, flashing your debit card, and showing off your drivers license in a world that not only makes way for you today, but which has a history of placing people like you right in the center of the history-making circle. In the portraits of USA presidents, you can kinda see yourself smiling back.
And this is the circle of experience that has always been at the center of voting in the USA. No Civil Rights struggle, no suffrage movement, no fifteenth or nineteenth amendment was required to constitutionalize their vote. The constitution has always been by, for, and about them. They can even go to Blockbuster and not get ripped off!
On the other hand, when I’m standing in line at my local video store (because I do not go to Blockbuster) none of the Escalade class are to be seen. When photo IDs are checked, the company is paying me no compliment, because the company simply wants to know where to find me later in case they want to collect some property or cash.
So how is this photo ID movement imposed by corporations upon working consumers supposed to serve as some kind of guide to the proper exercise of voting rights? I’m trying to think: what am I taking away from the voting booth that they might want to come and take back from me later?
Arguments about the photo ID movement tend to focus on existing voters. As with people driving Escalades, people who are already used to voting will probably not be much affected by the photo ID movement. But here it is crucial to remember that in America, most people are not used to voting. That’s right, democracy as we know it so far in America turns most people off and keeps most people away. This is the actual history of the matter even prior to the photo ID movement now underway.
Obviously, it should go without saying, new voters are not used to voting at all. And as we pointed out earlier, if Democrats are going to increase their chances of victory, they have to increase the likelihood that new voters will show up. But deeper than this, and something that even some Democrats don’t seem to get, if America wants to keep up a history of democracy then more and more people will have to feel encouraged to vote.
So in order to get inside the head game of this voter ID movement now we have to get out of our suit, our Escalade, and place ourselves in the position of someone marginal to the center, asking themselves, do they want to come in? What the photo ID movement says to these newcomers is that they first have something to prove.
It’s not enough that they live here, work here, and are subject to the acts of state that they live under. No, these things alone do not qualify them to voice their crucial opinion about the rulers who will reign above their heads. Because as the Escalade class is here to testify, American Democracy has never been about welcoming newcomers into THIS circle.
In the head game of voting rights, moderate Democrats offer the worst of trips. They are inside the circle and cannot suppose anymore what they must fight for in order to aggressively expand the circle for others. They think Democrats have already achieved a democracy worth fighting for. So they say things like, “I don’t see the problem with this” because basically for the moderate Democrat, living under Republican rule is good as the rest.
So we encourage the moderate Democrat to ask, how does the example of Blockbuster help to guide us in a matter so sacred as the human right to vote? If we are not capable of laughing out loud at the suggestion that Blockbuster should be our example of democracy then how far below the sacred have we sunk?
Actually it turns out, there’s something broke here that’s been broke for quite a while. But like the service manager at a dishonest car shop, Republicans are pointing to the wrong thing. What’s broke is that the desire to welcome new people into the American voting tent has once again been overcome by small minded suspicions about who they are and what they might do with their power amongst us. What’s broke is that we say we believe the revolutionary dream of American democracy, but we do not.