Opinion » Bill Cope

Devolving the Vote

Part Two: Don't need no steenking photo ID

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"To vote you must either present a photo ID or sign a Personal Identification Affidavit."

--From Idaho Votes, a voters' guide issued by the Idaho Secretary of State's Office

Last week we first heard the word "traitoring," a verb I concocted to describe what Republican legislatures and governors across the land are doing to suppress the vote of certain Americans, to discourage citizens from going to the polls in November, and in some cases, blatantly deny qualified people the right to vote. In Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, Arizona--the list goes on, and yes, it includes Idaho--Republican power-mongers fear they can no longer win elections if specific varieties of Americans are allowed to enter a voting booth freely.

The tactics they have used vary from state to state. In some they are simply purging the rolls of registered voters. In others they are restricting the hours and days that people might vote early or making it outrageously difficult to get registered, particularly in minority neighborhoods. But common to all of the states in which Republicans are trying to squelch the turnout of African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, oldfolk-Americans and youngfolk-Americans is the requirement that all voters carry a government-sanctioned photo ID with them to the polls.

They insist these efforts are to stop a crime so rare in reality that if we gathered together all the people who attempted to vote under a false identity, anywhere in America, over the last decade, they would all fit on the same bus. That's how feeble the threat of voter fraud is. Yet the insatiable plutocrats of the right would make it impossible for millions of Americans to vote, using this strawdog as their excuse.

And most galling of all: We know they are lying about it, they know we know they are lying about it, but they're pushing on and doing it anyway. I guess for shame to be a deterrent, you have to have some.

I'd say, "Stop me if you've heard all this before," if I didn't believe there is no such thing as hearing too many times that the very foundation of this democracy is at risk. All other rights hinge on the freedom to vote. Without it, the Constitution--all constitutions, everywhere--are little more than scrap paper. The ability of human beings to take part in shaping the futures of themselves and their communities--from Golden Age Athenians scratching their vote on pottery shards to Third World hopefuls trekking miles and miles to leave a thumbprint on their ballots--may well be the most impressive and inspiring accomplishment we, as the most communal of animals, have achieved in our social evolution. Millions have died to protect the vote. Millions more have died to spread it. There is no part of the human family that hasn't struggled to get it.

Yet here we have the most powerful, wealthiest political bloc in the world today, tearing at that essential first step to self-determination. In recent days, judges in Florida, Texas and Ohio undid the right's perfidious scheme by varying degrees. But even if those judgments survive the inevitable appeals, there are still many states in which arbitrary voting restrictions are going unchallenged. And thanks to the clutch of rubes that controls our State Legislature and the Governor's Office, Idaho is one of them.

Also from last week, I wrote how I planned to go to my polling place Tuesday, Nov. 6, without identification, and that I would still be able to vote, in spite of the new Republican edicts that now control voting in almost 30 states. I told you about the stipulation in Idaho's law that allows me, or you, to fill out an affidavit if there is no photo ID available. (I have been assured by both the Ada County Election Office and the Secretary of State's Office that there will be plenty of affidavits to go around at each polling place, should there be a sudden rash of misplaced drivers licenses.) The document is a simple thing to complete; a signature and address is about all it requires. But be aware: There is a penalty of some sort to be paid for anyone who says they are someone they aren't.

What I haven't told you is my reason for doing it. I have a photo ID. I could easily obey the Republican decree with no need for the extra 30 seconds it will take to fill out the affidavit.

But the photo ID requirement should not exist, period. Citizens shouldn't have to prove they are not committing a crime before there is any indication a crime is being committed. These odious laws were enacted for one reason only, no matter how many lies the rotten bastards tell to justify them.

With the affidavit, I intend to leave behind something to register my protest and disgust--a paper handprint on the stonewall to advise the creepy operatives of Idaho's controlling cartel that I, for one, will not be submitting to this oppressive directive they have imposed upon the citizens of Idaho; something that insists I am a legitimate citizen whether or not I'm carrying a scrap of plasticized paper with my mug on it; something that shows them no matter what sneaky shit they pull to swing the results to their favor, I will chip away at their voting restrictions in any way I can, no matter how insignificant each separate chip may be; that I will never stop resisting their loathsome attempts either in Idaho or any other region of this grand democracy of ours to keep people from having a say in their own destiny.

But as I said last week, far be it from me to suggest anyone else do as I do.

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