The Hammer to Crack the Peanut


I’ve never understood the paranoia some politicians have about voter fraud. In the past five years, I’ve heard dozens of news stories about politicians trying to “tighten the rules” around voting. Measures have been brought forward to try and force people to take off their veils, or force people to show a narrowing list of relevant ID, denying people the right to register on voting day, or forcing people through so many hoops to ensure that their contact information is current and, if it isn’t current, denying them the right to vote.

I find it ironic that in countries which supposedly care about freedom and democracy, politicians spend so much time telling people what they have to do before they are allowed to vote. And it makes so little sense. All studies show that the number of fraudulent votes in any election in the United States and Canada is minuscule — and almost impossible to have any impact on the final result. Having been a Deputy Returning Officer for a number of Canadian elections, I know for a fact that, however lax the old system was supposed to be, it was impossible to stuff ballot boxes without it becoming very obvious very fast. A far more effective way of twisting an election result, in my opinion, is not to try and stuff ballot boxes, but to do everything you can to keep them empty — that is, discourage people from voting.

So, one wonders if that’s the motivation in Texas for their new restrictive voter registration law. This petition here discusses changes to the Texan law which now requires “Texans must show a photo ID with their up-to-date legal name instead of IDs like a birth certificate.”

As the petition notes, this is fine and dandy for all men, whether they are married or single. Women? Well, that’s a whole other kettle of fish. A married woman’s legal name is often different from her birth name. Does she have a piece of voter ID with her new name on it? According to this source, as many as 33% of women voters do not have documentation that would satisfy the Texas law.

It’s bad enough that, in a state with 254 counties, there are less than 100 offices where one could get proper ID. The hoops that some of these people will have to go through to get a card that affirms their right to vote will keep people out of the democratic process, and high portion of those will be the poor and other disadvantaged groups. That is simply undemocratic.

This is no small thing. It seems likely that if Erin and I were in Texas in the years after our wedding, she might not have had the ability to vote. Even up here in Canada, there was confusion surrounding our married name. We had a marriage certificate (which is not sufficient on its own for getting a voter ID card), but Erin did not have a birth certificate. We are well acquainted with the bureaucratic headaches this caused. When Erin was working at the University of Waterloo, she received pressure from Human Resources to clarify her married name because she was known as E. Bow, but her employee records were under her maiden name of E. Noteboom, and it was screwing up the staff directory. Well, to change the employee records meant changing her social insurance card. To change her social insurance card meant changing the documentation she received when she arrived as a landed immigrant to Canada. To change her landed immigration documents meant changing her American passport. Changing her American passport meant accessing her birth certificate, which was among the files that were lost when the Des Moines county courthouse burnt to the ground in 1975.

Finally getting this corrected (which we did after we had our passports stolen from us in 2009) took years, but Erin would have braved that if this is what she needed to do to vote. Fortunately in Canada, that level of work wast needed. The ID we were able to show was enough to get us on the voters’ list, and no voting fraud happened in our house. It is abhorrent to even think of making average citizens jump through these hoops in order to exercise an inherent and critical right.

Voting is a right, not a privilege. It’s a key factor in our democratic freedoms. If we value our freedoms and our democracy, we should be making it easier to vote, not harder. And one cannot help but be suspicious when lawmakers like those in Texas — who are facing a spirited challenge by the Democratic candidate for governor, Wendy Davis — goes against this very clear and simple principle. You have to ask yourself: what are they hiding? What are they really afraid of?

Further Reading

  • On American Voter Fraud - Relevant quote: “Out of the 197 million votes cast for federal candidates between 2002 and 2005, only 40 voters were indicted for voter fraud, according to a Department of Justice study outlined during a 2006 Congressional hearing. Only 26 of those cases, or about .00000013 percent of the votes cast, resulted in convictions or guilty pleas.”
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