If ballots were bullets

If Americans cared as much about their voting rights as their gun rights, they'd be up in arms right now

By Stephanie Jones

Published October 21, 2012 7:00PM (EDT)

             (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-164545p1.html'>Olga Miltsova</a> via <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/'>Shutterstock</a>/Salon)
(Olga Miltsova via Shutterstock/Salon)

What if politicians began enacting and enforcing a spate of laws across the country that prevented millions of law-abiding citizens from buying guns in order to stop criminals from getting their hands on weapons? Would Second Amendment advocates remain silent?

That’s what is happening in America in 2012 -- except, instead of keeping millions of Americans from exercising their right to bear arms, Republican legislators, governors and secretaries of state are trying to stop millions of Americans from exercising their right to vote. Yet those who would never tolerate any curtailment of gun rights have raised nary a peep about this assault on voting rights.

Under the excuse of preventing “voter fraud,” Republican state officials are vigorously pushing voter ID laws that will make it harder -- and in some cases, virtually impossible -- for certain citizens to vote. These laws -- which require voters to show a state-issued photo ID that many Americans don’t have and will have great difficulty obtaining -- could bar 3.2 million eligible and legally registered voters from voting in the next election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan think tank.

Since 2000, there have been only about 10 cases in the United States of people impersonating someone else at the polls, the only type of fraud that voter ID laws could conceivably prevent, according to a study by News21. This small number is not surprising. Impacting an election through voter impersonation would require a scheme of comically byzantine proportions, including "an army of individual impersonators," notes Barbara Arnwine, president of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. That's why it's more likely, according to the Brennan Center, for a person to be struck by lightning than to pretend to be someone else at the polls.

Nevertheless, Republican state officials are responding to fewer than a dozen errant voters by disenfranchising more than three million eligible ones; for every one person charged with voter impersonation in the past 12 years, 300,000 legal voters could be blocked from the ballot box.

Imagine if such an obnoxiously lopsided ratio were applied to guns – we would be deafened by the outcries from Second Amendment advocates, who are firm in their belief that crime prevention is not a valid reason to curtail any law-abiding citizen’s ability to obtain a gun. Instead, they insist, we should simply prosecute gun crimes after they are actually committed.

Yet those who rail the loudest against any effort to staunch the flood of documented and preventable gun violence through even the most modest gun control proposals have not uttered a word against voter ID laws that disenfranchise eligible voters under the guise of preventing problems not proven to exist in any significant numbers. In fact, many of them -- including the National Rifle Association and its political lackeys -- are the most bellicose defenders of voter suppression measures. While they strenuously object to “prior restraint” on the rights of law-abiding gun owners, they have no problem with -- and in many cases fervently endorse -- prior restraint on the voting rights of their fellow law-abiding citizens. And, if any of them believes we should apply the post-crime “just prosecute the ones who violate the law and leave everyone else alone” approach to voter impersonation, they’ve been mighty quiet about it.

But if it’s wrong to keep guns away from any of the many to prevent the wrongful acts of the few, certainly it is wrong to disenfranchise millions of voters to stop fewer than a handful of ineligible people from voting. In fact, voter ID laws are a much more draconian and dangerous imposition on our constitutional rights. Not only is voter impersonation exceedingly rare, it has virtually no effect on the outcome of an election, while the voter ID “solution” could swing the results on Election Day. On the other hand, an integral part of each gun crime is a gun victim -- all-too-often a dead one. No parent ever had to bury a child because an ineligible voter got their hands on a ballot.

For some, this glaring double standard may be based on ignorance or an inability to look beyond one’s own narrow interests. But for many others, neither short-sightedness nor lack of knowledge is at play. For them -- including the politicians who so feverishly push and defend voter ID laws -- this has nothing to do with protecting the integrity of our electoral system. Instead, voter ID laws are carefully and cruelly crafted to achieve one cynical goal: bolstering their champions’ own political power by blocking certain “others” -- minorities, the poor, the elderly, students and anyone else they think is likely to vote Democratic -- from exercising theirs.

This drive to disenfranchise millions of our fellow citizens who risk being knocked out and then locked out of our political process by voter ID laws should sicken every American who truly believes in and cares about the Constitution, including Second Amendment advocates who would surely see this differently if this were about bullets rather than ballots.


Stephanie Jones

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2012 Elections Gun Control Gun Violence National Rifle Association Nra Voter Suppression