Much ado about photo ID (column version)

    Yep, you already read this here, back on Friday. But I post it not for you blog regulars, but for folks who saw it first in the paper today, and decided to come here for the version with links.

    And if you did that, welcome to the blog…


The photo ID bill that caused such a flap in the House Thursday is one of those classic issues that political partisans make a huge deal over, and that seems to me entirely undeserving of the fuss.
    It’s not so much an issue that generates conflict between Democrats and Republicans as it is an issue that is about conflict between the two parties, with little practical impact beyond that.
    The way I see it is this:

  • It’s ridiculous for Democrats to act like this is some kind of insupportable burden on voting, even to the point of walking out to dramatize their profound concern. Why shouldn’t you have to make the kind of basic demonstration of your identity that you have to make for pretty much any other kind of transaction?
  • It’s ridiculous for Republicans to insist that we have to have this safeguard, absent any sort of widespread abuse here in South Carolina in recent elections. Where’s the problem necessitating this big confrontation with the Democrats? I don’t see it.

    Some of my friends and acquaintances defend parties by telling me that they legitimately reflect different philosophies and value systems. Well, when you scratch the surface and get at the values that inform these two overwrought, pointedly partisan reactions, it doesn’t make me feel any better either way. In fact, it reminds me why I can’t subscribe to either party’s world view.
    Democrats believe at their core that it should be easier to vote. I look around me at the kinds of decisions that are sometimes made by voters, and it seems to me sometimes that far too many people who are already voting take the responsibility too lightly. Look at exit polls — or just go up to a few people on the street and ask them a few pointed questions about public affairs. Look at what people actually know about candidates and their positions and the issues, and look at the reasons they say they vote certain ways, and it can be alarming. Hey, I love this American self-government thing, but it’s not perfect, and one of the biggest imperfections is that some folks don’t take their electoral responsibility seriously enough. Why would I want to see the people who are so apathetic that they don’t vote now coming out and voting? Yet that seems to be what many Democrats are advocating, and it disturbs me.
    And beneath all that sanctimony from Republicans about the integrity of the voting process is, I’m sorry to say, something that looks very much like what Democrats are describing, although Democrats do so in overly cartoonish terms. There’s a bit of bourgeois disdain, a tendency among Republicans to think of themselves as the solid, hard-working citizens who play by the rules, and to be disdainful of those who don’t have their advantages — which they don’t see as advantages at all, but merely their due as a result of being so righteous and hard-working. There’s a tendency to see the disadvantaged as being to blame for their plight, as being too lazy or immoral or whatever to participate fully. The idea is that they wouldn’t have these problems if they would just try. What I’m trying to describe here is the thing that is making sincere Republicans’ blood pressure rise even as they’re reading these words. It’s a tendency to attach moral weight to middle-class status. Republicans seem to believe as an article of faith that there are all these shiftless, marginal people out there — relatives of Cadillac-driving welfare queens of the Reagan era, no doubt — wanting to commit voter fraud, and they’ve got to stop it, and if you don’t want to stop it as much as they do, then you don’t believe in having integrity in the process.
    Basically, I’m unimpressed by the holier-than-thou posturing from either side. And I get very tired at all the fuss over something that neither side can demonstrate is all that big a deal. Democrats can’t demonstrate that this is a great injustice, and Republicans can’t demonstrate that it’s needed.
    And yet, all this drama.
    While I’m at it, I might as well abuse a related idea: early voting.
    We’ve had a number of debates about that here on the editorial board, and I’ve been told that my reasons for opposing early voting are vague and sentimental. Perhaps they are, but I cling to them nonetheless.
    While Democrats and Republicans have their ideological reasons to fight over this idea, too, it’s a communitarian thing for me. I actually get all warm and fuzzy, a la Frank Capra, about the fact that on Election Day, my neighbors and I — sometimes folks I haven’t seen in years — take time out from our daily routine and get together and stand in line (actually allowing ourselves to be, gasp, inconvenienced) and act as citizens in a community to make important decisions.
    I’ve written columns celebrating that very experience, such as one in 1998 that quoted a recent naturalized citizen proudly standing in line at my polling place, who said, “On my way here this morning, I felt the solemnity of the occasion.”
    I believe in relating to my country, my state, my community as a citizen, not as a consumer. That calls for an entirely different sort of interaction. If you relate to public life as a consumer, well then by all means do it at your precious convenience. Mail or phone or text it in — what’s the difference? It’s all about you and your prerogatives, right? You as a consumer.
    Something different is required of a citizen, and that requirement is best satisfied by everyone getting out and voting on Election Day.
    With or without photo IDs.

This column is adapted from a post on my blog, which includes a lot of other commentary that did not make it into the paper. For the full experience, please go to

29 thoughts on “Much ado about photo ID (column version)

  1. Doug Ross

    Please add your views on early voting to the “process over results” pile.
    The objective of an election should be to allow as many legal voters as possible to cast votes. It has nothing to do with some sort of shared community activity where we line up with a bunch of people we don’t know to spend hours waiting for an inefficent process to be completed.

  2. Weldon VII

    The way I see it is this:
    * It’s ridiculous for Democrats to act like this is some kind of insupportable burden on voting…
    * It’s ridiculous for Republicans to insist that we have to have this safeguard…

    Nah, what’s ridiculous is that you actually put this nonsensical dichotomy in newsprint so that everybody can think you’re an idiot.
    Voter ID is a safeguard to prevent the voter fraud that you say hasn’t occurred here. Why have it? Because with every passing day we live a little bit less in the nifty, everybody-knows-each-other, “It’s A Wonderful Life” world that Frank Capra did, thus every day that voter fraud becomes more likely.

  3. Greg Flowers

    At my precinct everybody knows me because I always vote. But asking people to carry an easily obtainable photo ID strikes me as incredibly minor. I don’t see how non-drivers can make it through life without a State ID which is either very inexpensive or free. Trying to paint this as racist is ridiculous.

  4. bud

    We’ve had a number of debates about that here on the editorial board, and I’ve been told that my reasons for opposing early voting are vague and sentimental. Perhaps they are, but I cling to them nonetheless.
    Doug’s got Brad cold on this one. Process over Results. That’s Brad in a nutshell.

  5. Brad Warthen

    If that’s what you mean by “process over results,” then I’ll wear the label proudly. That’s because I have a deep devotion to the process of which we speak — that of joining my neighbors in the process of voting, something I celebrate and am thankful for every Election Day. Here’s a post about it from this past election, and here’s a video I did from the polls in 2006, which I highly recommend — one of my better efforts. (Sadly, we recently lost former Associate Editor Katherine Gray, who is featured in the video.)

    I just don’t know what to say about people who hold THAT process in contempt…

  6. Doug Ross

    I don’t hold the process in contempt… it’s just not something that I observe most people in line celebrating. Have you seen mothers trying to manage a couple kids for 45 minutes while they wait in line? I have — up close. It didn’t give me a feeling of patriotism.
    When it rains, voting is down. When there isn’t a compelling race, voting is down.
    Early voting would increase the number of voters. That’s should be the objective.

  7. Greg Flowers

    But it is a ritualistic part of being an American, just like going down to the registration office following one’s 18th birthday used to be. Sometimes I think going to just a little bit of trouble to participate makes one appreciate it more.
    Is SC the only state in the Union where liquor stores are required by law to be closed on election day?

  8. bud

    I waited in line 2 long hour with a constant threat of rain. Like Doug, I saw young mothers struggling with small children. Then there are the infirm, those sick with the flu or other ailments and those who have difficulty getting off work. How many others simply did not vote given the trouble. I doubt they share Brad’s touchy feely sentiment about the process.
    As for me personally, perhaps there was a bit of patriotism the first 15 minutes I was in line. Folks were generally upbeat and friendly. But after a while my back was aching and the whole thing just did not seem worth the effort given that the outcome was never in doubt. McCain, Graham and Wilson all easily won in blood red SC. If there was a secure way to vote without all the burden I’d be 110% in favor. Democracy would be well served by getting rid of this archaic system.

  9. Nell

    Make no mistake, this bill is about keeping poor blacks, who usually vote Democratic, from voting. I’ve been in SC since 1964 and personally known blacks who were not born in hospitals and did not have birth certificates. Have you ever tried to get a birth certificate if you weren’t born in a hospital? About 10 years ago it cost my husband $600 to have the census data examined in order for him to get a passport. Make no mistake, the Republicans are getting rid of voters who vote Democratic.
    Every American should stand up to efforts to deny the vote to citizens. Every American should tell the SC Republicans to be patriotic instead of partisan.

  10. Brad Warthen

    bud, maybe you should focus more on the down-ballot races, such as legislative and county offices; maybe the experience would mean more to you. I guess if I concentrated on the inside the Beltway, 24/7 TV show of “Which party will control Washington?,” I’d get jaded, too. Fortunately, I wouldn’t give two cents for EITHER party to control Washington, so that doesn’t kill my appreciation of the experience.
    Back to photo ID: Just got a release from the ACLU about photo IDs — opposing them, as you’d probably expect.
    To quote from the release, the ACLU is right to call this “an unnecessary and polarizing piece of legislation.”
    But it’s wrong to make a big deal about it, even to the point of saying it could “wreak havoc at polling places.” This conjures a picture of a madman with a headsman’s ax in which the blade is a gigantic ID card, slashing left and right, blood spurting…
    Another example of the overheated rhetoric that we’ve seen from both sides of this unnecessary controversy.

  11. SpencerGantt

    Personally, I agree strongly with both views. Early voting is great for those who DON’T want to stand in lines, and Election Day is great for those who WANT to stand in lines and feel cozy and patriotic and neighborly or whatever. A win-win situation for everyone.
    What we really need is a South Carolina State Resident ID which “covers all bases”. Age, address, driver’s license, voter identity, whatever.
    And, early voting would have to be MY way.
    Ballot filled out and printed from any computer anywhere; you are personally responsible for getting your ballot to the proper “counter”.
    Also, both political parties SUCK! So does the Unparty if it still exists and does nothing as always. Get rid of them all. Vote for yourself, your neighbor, your friend, anybody but Dumbs, Repugs and Ignorants.
    Read my book, “Vote the Bastards Out: Democrats, Republicans, Incumbents” and you’ll see what I mean.

  12. Rich

    We need to enter the 21st century technologically when it comes to voting. There is no reason in the world why anyone should be waiting in long lines on election day when they could log into a secure account from any computer and vote for the candidates of their choice from anywhere in the world.
    If I can pay bills online, file my taxes, etc., I do not understand why I cannot vote online, unless someone is attempting to make it an effort for me to vote, perhaps with the object of discouraging me from doing so.
    When I saw those long lines at Ridge View and waited 2-1/2 hours of valuable time to vote, I just knew that a lot of people simply turned around and went to work and about their business.
    Fortunately, the people’s candidate won the election.

  13. Bart

    Even the most “secure” site is vunerable to hackers gaining access. It happens almost every day and to think for one moment that a “hacker-proof” voters site wouldn’t be an instant challenge, think again. Recently, my ATM card along with 200m others was compromised by hackers.
    My daughter has her masters in business and finance with an emphasis on IT. She faces this problem every day and with her experience and knowledge of how it all works, I take her word on this subject.
    Anyone who wants to vote early can if they have a reasonable or legitimate reason for doing so. My wife and I voted early last year and when we arrived at the registar’s office, there were a lot of others there. Most were African Americans, elderly, handicapped, and mothers who couldn’t wait in lines with small children for any length of time. It has been my experience that most polling places are staffed with honest people, mostly Democrats.
    I don’t buy the “Republican conspiracy” of disenfranchisement of black voters.
    Over the years, depending upon the election, I have waited in line for 2 to 4 hours but that is part of participating in a democracy. A small price to pay to live in this country.
    If you don’t have a birth certificate, you can get one without too much trouble. Most of what you need is already available if you bother to go online and check out what is required to obtain one. It took me about 2 minutes to find the website and get the information needed.
    Both sides have been using Voter ID as a club against each other but the ultimate victim is the integrity of the voting process. If an ID card is too much of an imposition and considered as a racist tool for bigots and voter suppression, then the argument for one is already made. Get the ID card and silence those who you believe are interested in silencing you. Consider the vast turnout by Afican Americans last year. The stakes were high enough to overcome all obstacles. Why can’t the stakes in any election be high enough to warrant obtaining an ID card?

  14. bud

    bud, maybe you should focus more on the down-ballot races, such as legislative and county offices; maybe the experience would mean more to you.
    I don’t need any goddamn lectures on what I should consider important. You just changed the subject with this non-sequiter. The long lines are archaic, unnecessary and a burden on millions of Americans. If you’d spend one minute considering how ridiculous this whole situation is in the 21st century you’d quickly realize how it completely thwarts the democratic process. Get rid of that tie, the blue laws, paper newspapers and the long voting lines. Grow up man, the rest of world is quickly leaving you behind.

  15. Rich

    I return once again to the example of the European Union. Why can’t we learn SOMETHING from the great democracies that comprise that confederation??
    Their voter participation is typically between 85-95% with a whole lot less fraud than is ever alleged to occur here. They also don’t have voter registration, do use advanced technology, and citizens are required to carry a government-issued ID card at all times.
    Not here! Now, if you and the other readers of this blog would investigate the history of voter registration in this country (there are scholarly monographs that have been written on this topic, including doctoral dissertations archived by UMI/Proquest), you will see that voter registration arose in this country after the Civil War as a technique in the South for disenfranchising black voters and in the North as a means to disenfranchise the new immigrants pouring in from Catholic Europe to man our growing economy.
    In this country, voter registration has NEVER been an impediment to fraud, just to the act of voting itself.

  16. York "Budd" Durden

    The long lines are helpful in depicting such unlikely scenarios as W receiving 60 million votes in 2004. Not possible. (FWIW, doubt that Kerry received 59 million either, but it suited the horserace narrative.)

  17. Greg Flowers

    Thinking about it, I thought all citizens were required to have a state issue photo id and had been for (25?) years. Certainly in the bad old days when one was frequently writing checks to merchants a photo ID was a requirement. Even if this is not the case, surely you would have to show the same proof of identity to get voter registration as to get a drivers license or a state ID. The proposed legislation appears reasonable, very easy to comply with if people would think about it rather than getting upset. There is a large group which gets blood in their eye if they are told that any measure will require them to do ANYTHING, no matter how trivial, to exercise their “rights.” They seems to forget that all rights are are balanced by responsibilities and having to prove your identity in order to participate in the political process is a ridiculously small price to pay.

  18. Bart

    “Could Bart and Rich be alter egos of the same person?”
    Who knows? I rarely agree with Rich and since both of us take up more space with our responses than most others, maybe we are the same person in that aspect.

  19. SpencerGantt

    One government (state) issued ID sounds great. Certifies residency, driver and voter classification, address, Social Security status, and much more. Eliminates need to “register” to vote. Consolidates info. More efficient than multiple bureaucracies.
    VOTE THE BASTARDS OUT! Democrats, Republicans, Incumbents. Get your own self into office.

  20. Bart

    Lighten up! It was a tongue in cheek comment by bud. He was, I think, referring to our sometimes rather long posts. (However, on my Father’s side of the family, we have a Spanish heritage and one of my ancestors was a Spanish sea captain who owned his own merchant ship and was one of the first settlers in the Charleston area. Hell, we might be long lost relatives. 🙂 🙂 :))
    No offense taken. I enjoy our back and forth. You are a worthy opponent and able to articulate your position with an excellent vocabulary.
    Lee is another one I enjoy reading on this blog. He offers links and generally supports most of his comments whether I agree with him or not.

  21. Lee Muller

    Democrats only support voting rights for felons because so many Democrats are felons. As many as one third of some Democrat precincts are convicted felons.
    Barack Obama worked for ACORN, the voter fraud organization. Obama was elected by voter fraud.


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