Today I got a new driver’s license to reflect my weekend move from Baton Rouge to Lafayette. I did so as fast as I could to make the deadline for voting in the November elections. The deadline is 30 days prior to the Nov. 6 election — so if you aren’t sure about your current registration status, check it this week!
According to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website, voters are required to present identification such as driver’s license, Special ID or “some other generally recognized picture ID that contains your name and signature.” Voters who don’t possess any of the above can bring “a utility bill, payroll check or government document that includes their name and address.” Voters with such documents “will have to sign an affidavit furnished by the Elections Division in order to vote.” As far as voting requirements go, this seems fair; it balances the integrity of the polls with accessibility for citizens.
I’ve spent 10 of my 14 voting years in Louisiana, and have never had a problem either voting or registering to do so. I voted in my first election before I had a driver’s license, using my college ID. A year later, I changed my address three weeks before an election, but still was able to vote at my previous precinct. Since then, it’s been smooth sailing everywhere I’ve lived.
Knock on wood.
One of the big political stories of 2012 has been the push toward more stringent voter laws nationwide. Though Louisiana hasn’t been among the major players in this push, the state shares the conservative makeup that most of the states involved have in common. Mandatory picture ID for voters could absolutely happen here in the near future.
Critics — I’m raising my hand here — contend that photo-ID laws are less about curbing voter fraud than about curbing voters, period. In a sense, it’s a genius political calculation by Republicans, who would benefit from the reduced influx of poor, minority, college and elderly voters for whom narrow ID standards can be an obstacle, and can disguise that de facto purge as upholding poll integrity. And who could possibly be against voter integrity?
Well, my trip to the DMV reminded me exactly why I’m against voter integrity — at least as the ID proponents define it.
In Lafayette, the DMV office is located at the very north edge of town near Carencro, on a frontage road off I-49. It’s the only one in the entire city, and people often confuse it with a police station on another frontage road (which, for a long time after the new DMV opened, had a stack of fliers pointing visitors to the correct location). The DMV’s isolated location is accessible almost exclusively by car, adjacent only to a Mexican restaurant whose core business is probably weary licensees. For those relying on the bus, their own two feet or a walker, it might as well be Emerald City. Even if you do get there, you’d better have the right papers and cash, just in case. Some don’t. Some never have.
As long as ID offices are less ubiquitous than polling stations, stringent ID laws are going to disenfranchise some (or many) legit voters — citizens whose only crime is lack of access to offices and/or proper documentation. For those making the push, this outcome is exactly what they want.
Let’s make sure anyone wanting to bring Louisiana into this poisonous movement has an equally tough road ahead.