Efforts to prevent voter fraud seem like commonsense measures to ensure the integrity of our voting system. However, the problem with “commonsense” is it does not require in-depth study of the issue. Commonsense is based on “simple perception of the situation or facts.”(1)
Since 2011, at least 34 states have introduced legislation requiring voters to show government-issued voter identification (enacted in seven states), at least 11 states introduced legislation to show proof of citizenship (enacted in three states), and at least 13 states introduced legislation to make it harder to register to vote (enacted in six states). (2)
Why in a nation that saw only 61.6 percent of the eligible electorate vote in the 2008 presidential election would we want to make it harder to vote?(3) Are these really commonsense measures to ensure the integrity of our election system? Or unnecessary efforts that will deter or deny legally entitled citizens the most direct way to participate in the democratic process — voting?
To those who think the critics of voting restriction laws are making a big deal out of nothing, consider the history of voting rights in the United States. Our history is one of exclusion, with long, hard-fought battles to enfranchise all U. S. citizens. In 1776, our founding fathers only granted white men with property the right to vote, excluding Catholic, Jewish, and Quaker men (4).
Through the denial of citizenship, Chinese, Native Americans, Japanese, and Hindus, were denied the right to vote. Enactment of the 15th Amendment in 1870 granted freed slaves and other African American men the right to vote. Many southern states responded by restricting access through poll taxes, literacy tests, intimidation, and violence to prevent the free exercise of the right to vote.
In 1920, after a 70-year struggle, women were granted the right to vote. In 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act “permanently barring direct barriers to political participation by racial and ethnic minorities”(4). For people alive today who fought for the Voting Rights Act, or lost loved ones in the struggle, current efforts to restrict the right to vote is not ancient history and is very personal. Given our history, it should not be surprising the intentions of proponents of such restrictions are suspect.