As the 2012 election season shifts into high gear, citizens are weighing the candidates’ positions on the issues so they can make informed decisions when casting their ballots in November.
But due to new laws in nearly half the states in the nation, many citizens may find it more difficult to vote this year.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, during the 2011 legislative sessions, states across the country passed measures to make it harder for Americans – particularly African-Americans, the elderly, students and people with disabilities – to exercise their right to cast a ballot.
Over 30 states, including Oklahoma, have either passed or considered laws that would require voters to present a government-issued photo ID to vote. Studies suggest that up to 11 percent of American citizens lack such an ID, and would be required to navigate administrative burdens to obtain it or forego the right to vote entirely.
In the Nov. 2, 2010, general election, State Question 746, or the voter ID law, was approved by 74 percent of voters, and requires voters to provide proof of identity before being allowed to cast ballots. Documents acceptable as ID include an Oklahoma driver license, a state-issued ID card, a passport, a military ID or a voter ID card.
Tony O’seland, a veteran of the U.S. Navy and project director of the Veterans War Archive Project at Northeastern State University, said he’s concerned citizens’ rights are being trampled on.
“One of the most fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America and the Bill of Rights is the right to vote,” said O’seland. “[And that right is] unconditional. If you are a citizen, you have the right to sashay into any voter registration center in any county where you have established residency and tell the nice person behind the desk, ‘I believe I’d like to register to vote today.’ It wasn’t, however, always that way, and some states are actively working to return our country to the day when denying someone the right to vote based on race, economic status and eventually religion will be normal again.”
O’seland said many of these laws are introduced – and ultimately passed – to reduce “voter fraud.”
“The public needs to understand that what they hear called ‘voter fraud’ may, or may not be, what they think it is,” said O’seland. “Voter fraud is when a real, live person shows up at a precinct and represents himself as another person in order to vote using that person’s name. Some of the pundits have claimed there are over 3,000 documented cases of voter fraud in America.”
O’seland said earlier this year, News21.com took on the task of verifying cases of voter fraud across the country. The actual number of cases turned out to be drastically fewer than what was originally claimed.
“Through the use of the Freedom of Information Act and hands-on searches, News21.com was only able to [confirm] about 100 cases, and only one case had been prosecuted,” said O’seland. “The group responsible for the research that arrived at the 3,000 number is the National Republican Lawyers Association. Coincidentally, this is also one of the groups helping write the voter restriction legislation that has been introduced in over half the states in America, including Oklahoma. Personally, I would call this suspicious, but then again, just because you aren’t paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.”
According to information provided by the ACLU, 11 states have passed laws requiring voters to provide photo identification: Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Alabama. Other states have enacted laws restricting voter registration drives, shortening the early voting period, preventing convicted felons from ever voting again, and requiring proof of American citizenship.
In an earlier Daily Press report, Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, said 3 percent of Democratic voters in Oklahoma were affected by the passage of the voter ID law, and that voter fraud has never been an issue here.
“There is no documentation that anyone has ever violated that trust,” said Wilson.
Cherokee County Election Board Secretary Connie Parnell said the new law has had an effect during recent elections.
“If you don’t have proper ID, you can still vote using a provisional ballot,” said Parnell. “With the first primary election, which is when the law went into effect, all provisional ballots issued were due to lack of ID. All were accepted.”
In the Aug. 28 runoff, eight provisional ballots were issued, and six were due to lack of ID.
“A lot of the provisional ballots issued were to elderly people who didn’t have ID. Five of the six voters without ID were elderly. So, those are the issues we’re seeing,” Parnell said. “Everybody says [the new law is] good, but say a person walks in and doesn’t have ID, then they have to step aside and do a whole new process. So it is an issue. People do complain about having to produce ID; they think if they’ve shown it an one election, they shouldn’t have to do it again, but that’s the way it is. I have to show mine every time I vote. Every single time they vote, they will have to show ID.”
O’seland said the idea of laws restricting any citizen’s right to vote runs contrary to the oath he took when he entered the military.
“Civilians take a sacred oath when they enter into the armed services,” said O’seland. “The single most important part of this oath states, ‘I solemnly swear or affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.’ These citizens offer to give up their lives to protect an idea, a document that has become the hallmark to all other countries, as well as a benchmark they use when writing their own constitutions. As veterans, we have lived with this oath every day since we originally swore to it; it permeates all we do, and nowhere in that document, that idea, does it say that because you are a minority of any sort that you, as an American citizen, do not have a right to exercise your franchise and vote.
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