Voters should have rights, not licenses
BY REP. JEANNIE MCDANIEL
Sunday, February 22, 2009
2/22/09 at 3:55 AM
Franklin Roosevelt once said "nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote, except the American people themselves, and the only way they could do this is by not voting."
However, throughout our nation's history laws have been enacted to create obstacles to the ballot box. Poll taxes, literacy examinations, language barriers, and outright voter intimidation are documented in our history books.
Voter ID laws may be well-intentioned but are nonetheless ill-conceived and therefore contribute to this long list of voter disenfranchisement efforts.
Certainly, we are all aware of unintended consequences of House Bill 1804 that resulted in difficulties for those amongst us who have since applied for a driver's license without having readily available their birth certificate. Who could have anticipated the angst generated when an expired driver's license resulted in trips to the courthouse and frantic attic searches for lost papers? Family Bibles were suddenly accepted to show proof of birth for many veterans who served our country but were born at home or before birth records were certified.
I believe requiring a photo ID to vote could prove equally problematic for our families and neighbors.
The simple truth is voter ID laws are the result of what is a largely imaginary voter fraud crisis. Voter fraud has not occurred in Oklahoma and therefore lacks any credible evidence to justify enacting such restrictive measures. Requiring identification to vote will suppress political participation and have a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations such as the elderly, low-income, disabled and minority communities, all of which are most likely to lack proper ID.
The percentage of voter turnout among eligible American voters in the 2008 election was approximately 62 percent, ranking the U.S. just above the average voter turnout in India but well behind voter turnout evidenced in eight other established democracies. Voter turnout among eligible Oklahoma voters in the 2008 presidential election was only 57 percent, ranking Oklahoma 45th in the nation.
We work tirelessly to educate and encourage citizens on their right and duty to vote and get involved. The Democratic Party is the party of inclusion, and voter ID laws do little to forward the mission of increasing active voter participation.
Less than a decade ago the outcome of a presidential election was left in the hands of nine Supreme Court justices, and voting irregularities ranging from butterfly ballots to faulty equipment were broadly reported and recognized as deterrents in voter participation. However, instead of initiating efforts to increase access to polls and correct flawed mechanisms in place, Republicans both state and nationwide chose to focus on individual voters as the foundation of needed electoral reform.
Nothing is more crucial to our democracy than the right to vote. This secures other constitutional rights. It is by the vote that the will of the people is expressed, and voter ID laws will make it harder for people to make their voice heard. Voter ID laws are a solution to a non-existent problem in Oklahoma. These laws serve to reverse the intrinsic right to vote to having a license to vote.
According to the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety more than 78,000 Oklahomans over the age of 18 do not have a photo ID. Under voter ID laws these individuals would be burdened with securing a state-issued ID or driver's license, regardless of their need or ability to drive, in order to exercise their right to vote.
Voter fraud in Oklahoma is an unproven problem, as evident in the statement from Election Board Secretary Michael Clingman following the November 2008 elections, when he reported that of the 1.4 million votes cast in Oklahoma only six voters arrived at polls to find a signature beside their name at the registry. In these instances, the poll worker did not notice when a voter inadvertently signed the wrong line. There was no incidence of voter fraud.
The Legislature has an enormous responsibility this session to deliberate upon whether election reform is truly plagued by individuals trying to cast false ballots, or by the inability of all eligible Oklahomans to take part in the electoral process.
For my part, I will fight to ensure all Oklahomans have unfettered access to the polls.
State Rep. Jeannie McDaniel is a Democratic from Tulsa.
ADDING A BURDEN
Rep. Jeannie McDaniel: According to the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety more than 78,000 Oklahomans over the age of 18 do not have a photo ID.