Opinion » Bill Cope

Devolving the Vote

Part One: I dare call it traitoring


To Idaho Democrats, independents and assorted fair-minded citizens (including Republicans, in the unlikely circumstance there still exists some fair-minded Republicans) who feel that any action taken to deny the vote to other citizens is an abomination in this or any other land: Far be it from me to suggest that you do anything outside your comfort zone on Election Day, but allow me to tell you what I intend to do.

When I go to vote, I'm not going to take my driver's license. Nope, I will have no photo identification of any sort on me. I'm going in as undocumented as a newborn--as undocumented as I've been in every other presidential election in which I've voted since 1968.

Gadzooks! shriek you. Bill, have you gone mad? Are you going to pass up your most-relevant opportunity to contribute to the nation's governance? Are you going to renege on your duty to ante up your proper share of citizenship? Are you just begging to have denied to you the most-fundamental right a democracy can offer? What the hell's wrong with you, Cope?

Calm yourselves. I have no intention of giving up my vote. But there is a poorly advertised feature to Idaho's recent voter ID law that I mean to exploit. A voters' guide (Idaho Votes--you can check it out at idahovotes.gov) issued by Idaho's secretary of state, states clearly: "To vote, you must either present a photo ID or sign a Personal Identification Affidavit."

Yes, that last part about the affidavit has snagged my interest. I need not have a photo ID when I go to my polling place and ask for a ballot. I just need to be prepared to fill out a form that binds me to being who I say I am.

And why am I willing to linger longer in the Holy Place Of Voting than I would were I to simply show my DMV mug shot and move on? I'll tell you why, but not until next week. At the moment, there is another matter, a more perfidious matter, to be discussed.

A question to any of you guys and gals out there who are either thinking about committing, or already have committed, the act of treason: When you're a traitor to your nation and everything it represents, what is it exactly that you are traitoring against?

Ah, I realize "traitoring" probably isn't a word you're familiar with. But I looked around for the verb version of the noun "traitor," and found nothing satisfactory to my needs. When a murderer is committing his heinous crime, he is "murdering," yes? When an embezzler is performing her dastardly deed, she is "embezzling." But what is it called when a traitor is engaged in the very act that turns him into a traitor?

I could use "betraying," I suppose--as in the statement, "That despicable traitor is betraying us all when he undermines, subverts and otherwise corrupts the principles that make our nation what it is!" However, "betraying" doesn't fill my bill in this matter. It doesn't carry the weight it should when we're talking about undermining, subverting or corrupting a nation's most-basic principles. You betrayed your wife when you snuck off for some extramarital nookie. You betray your friend when you blab the secrets he asked you to keep to yourself. You are betraying your employees when you outsource their jobs to Mumbai or pillage their pension fund.

But when what you're doing is damaging to every citizen of the entire country--past, present and future, all at once--it goes beyond betraying, don't you think? I say when you're perverting and eroding the very mechanisms that make our country what it is, you are traitoring the principles and the people who live by them, just as surely as if you'd sold military secrets to the enemy.

Reasonable folks can disagree over what the most-basic, most-fundamental, most-central and vital principle that guides a country is. Here in America, for instance, we are eternally arguing whether or not God had anything to do with how the Founding Fathers set the country up to operate. Gun nuts would insist, as they so tiresomely do, that the well from which all other rights and liberties spring is their precious Second Amendment. While everyone from Nazi skinheads, performance artists, newspaper editors and billionaire-endowed super PACs rest on freedom of speech as Right No. 1, Libertarian loons and hedge-fund managers raise the dogma of free-market Darwinism above all other values.

But there is a value that came before all of this--before the Constitution, before Adam Smith's economic model, before God's questionable involvement in wording the Constitution and before guns, even. The vote. That glorious act in which men--and later, women--have engaged in for well more than a millennium. The process that gives us a share in the conduct, the direction, the very nature of our community, be that community the size of a family deciding where to go for pizza, or a nation of 350 million deciding on their next leader.

And now, after centuries of good men and women the world over striving and suffering and dying to make that value available to more and more people, there are those who would turn back the tide--who would take away this most fundamental act of citizenship for the most flimsy of reasons.

They have gone beyond betraying America. They are traitoring America. And next week, among other things (including the reason I intend to show up at the polls without a photo ID), we'll look at how far this treason has spread.