Welcome to the 21st century. In this day and age, you can't write a check, use a credit card, set up a bank account, get on an airplane, rent a hotel room or a car, or even get a library card without first showing your photo identification — usually a driver's license.
It is a pain, but we dig into our wallets and pull out the old ID card (with the photo we wish we could change) because, well ... because that's the way it is. Today, we have to prove who we are to get what we want.
So, why are some people so aghast at the idea that when we vote we should have to show a photo ID?
The merchant who asks a shopper to show a picture ID before accepting their credit card just wants to match up the name on the card with the face on your license. The airline wants to make sure they know who's getting on what flight. And the librarian needs to verify your correct address in case you decide not to return a stack of books. Asking for identification isn't done to violate your privacy, it's requested by others as protection from fraud, theft and terrorism.
So why don't we do a better job protecting our polling places? We've all heard the legendary (and proven) stories about dead people voting. In fact, voter fraud has likely taken place in most states, nationwide, at one time or another. But it is hard to prove because states have not been requiring voters to show a picture ID before casting a ballot. How can you prove someone is committing voter fraud if you don't know the person's true identity?
Things are changing now. In the last year, 34 states introduced voter ID legislation. Nine states passed variations of such a law: Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. Virginia is expected to do the same soon.
But, Attorney General Eric Holder's Justice Department is fighting tooth and nail so that these new voter fraud laws don't go into effect. He says they are discriminatory against the indigent, minorities, students, the elderly and others who may not have a driver's license. Liberal groups, like the ACLU, cry that states should be making it easier for citizens to vote, not harder. They maintain that since Republicans are in charge in most of the states passing the photo ID requirement, it is all a ploy to disenfranchise those groups that usually vote Democratic.
Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act the attorney general has the right of approval for any proposed voting change in a state with a history of voter discrimination — mostly Southern states. In December, the DOJ rejected South Carolina's decision to require a photo ID at the polls as discriminatory, and the state then sued the DOJ.
More recently, the Justice Department rejected a new photo ID voting law passed in Texas, concluding that between 6 and 10.8 percent of Hispanics in that state lacked the required picture identification. In passing the law, Texas pledged to give out free ID cards to those who didn't have one. The Justice Department rejected that idea because applicants for the free cards would have to provide a birth certificate.
The Justice Department has now lumped in the Texas case with the South Carolina suit, and the whole thing promises to be tied up in the courts for months if not years. The end result — these new photo ID laws cannot be enforced.
In the meantime, the November presidential race is looming, and Holder's boss, President Barack Obama, certainly wouldn't want to lose any potential Democratic voters.
Look, we have lots of rights here in America, but they come with responsibilities. You have the right to own and drive a car IF you get the proper license and insurance. You can send your child to a public school IF you can prove you live in the neighborhood and that little Billy or Susie has had their vaccinations. You can own a gun IF you get the proper registration and license. These are just some of the checks and balances we have in our society.
As I said in the beginning, we often have to prove who we are to get what we want. I see no reason why that maxim doesn't apply to our right to vote. Much has changed since the 1965 Voting Rights Act went into effect — the pervasiveness and ease of identity theft, to name just one obvious example.
And, sorry — I don't buy that this is some sinister Republican trick to purge Democratic voters. The idea of requiring a picture ID at the polls was recommended way back in 2005 by a commission on federal election reform co-chaired by none other than former President Jimmy Carter — not a man known to be hostile to minorities or the poor.
It's way past time to revamp our voting system to ensure that only eligible voters actually vote.
Visit Diane Dimond's official website at www.dianedimond.com for investigative reporting, polls and more. To find out more about Diane Dimond and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.