Presidential election day is upon us … again!
Tomorrow (as viewed relative to this post’s date of publication), for the third time this year, Austria will take a stab at holding a successful runoff election. Counting the initial election that resulted in the runoff, Dec 4th will be Austria’s fourth presidential election day 2016, i.e., my personal fifth.
The result of the first runoff in May, won by nominally-independent-Green-Party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, was subsequently undone and holden for naught by the Austrian Supreme Court on grounds of multiple procedural violations during the counting of the votes. The repeat runoff, scheduled for October, was called off preemptively after it had been discovered that some of the return envelopes mailed out with the absentee ballots had failed to seal properly due to faulty glue.
Whether Austria will come through on Dec 4th remains to be seen. Either way, given that the country has been doing fine sans president since July, and the point of having one waxes more elusive by the day, no one’s in a rush to get this schnitzel breaded (if you will pardon my Shakespearean attempt at coining an idiom for the ages).
In the run-up to every federal election in Austria—so for the fourth time this year—all eligible voter are snail-mailed an official voter notification document, which contains various bits of information, such as the voter’s name, his or her individual voter number, an individualized barcode, plus the exact date and time of the election and the address of his or her assigned polling place.
On the bottom, in small print, voters are told that in order to cast their vote, they must bring this document along with—drumroll!—a valid photo ID; that they must bring both; that the voter notification card itself does not double as an ID.
While non-controversial in Austria (and, most likely, in most Western democracies), stateside opinions differ as to whether the requirement to bring a valid photo ID—which, of course, presupposes that one owns one—to the ballot box constitutes voter discrimination. The question of how to determine whether a person’s stated identity accords with their actual identity and hence whether they’re eligible to vote in the first place appears to weigh much more heavily on the minds of some Americans than of others. Depending on whom you ask, the prevalence of voter fraud ranges from negligible to, at least according to one avid Twitter user, “millions” of illegitimate votes that handed the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in the most recent election.
No matter where you stand on the issue, one thing everyone agrees upon: namely that those who, for whatever reason, do not possess IDs are more likely to be found among the less affluent and more minority-heavy segments of society, and therefore are more likely to vote Democratic than Republican. Look no further for an explanation of why, generally speaking, conservatives support and liberals object to stringent voter ID laws.
Just as Morgan’s canon states that “in no case is an animal activity to be interpreted in terms of higher psychological processes if it can be fairly interpreted in terms of processes which stand lower in the scale of psychological evolution and development,” one need not resort to high-minded ideals like fraud prevention or the commitment to standing up for people’s fundamental rights in order to figure out the liberal/conservative divide on the voter ID issue. Laxer voter ID laws simply translate into more votes for Democrats, which naturally suits the left just fine and horrifies the right. That’s all there is to it. If most ID-less people were Republicans, you can bet your bottom dollar that attitudes toward voter ID laws would be diametrically reversed along party lines.
The primary objection to voter IDs, I suppose, consists in the notion that the inconvenience and monetary expense associated with obtaining a valid photo ID makes it harder for people to vote and thus presents a de facto infringement of their constitutional right to do so.
This line of argument, alas, runs into trouble as soon as we recall to our minds that there exist other fundamental constitutional rights besides voting, such as the right to keep and bear arms. Obviously, if the inconvenience and expense associated with acquiring a photo ID constitutes an unacceptable obstacle to one’s fundamental right to vote, then the inconvenience and expense associated with acquiring a firearm constitutes an unacceptable obstacle to one’s fundamental right to keep and bear arms.
Although individuals may fancy certain rights over others, the Constitution contains no hierarchy of rights. Unfortunate as you may find this—as I certainly do—Americans don’t have more of a right to vote (or to speak freely, for that matter) than they have a right to keep and bear arms.
Ergo, to argue that Americans have a right to vote without being asked to produce a valid photo ID is tantamount to arguing that Americans have a right to free guns delivered to their homes, no questions asked—because if having to go out and purchase an ID abridges your right to vote, how does having to go out, subject yourself to a background check, and spend your hard-earned cash on a firearm not abridge your right to keep and bear arms?
Or, to analogize the fundamental right to vote to a fundamental right less incendiary than the fundamental right to keep and bear arms, the absence of a right to effortlessly-available and free-of-charge writing materials (paper, pencils, typewriter, laptop, etc.) could surely be viewed as an abridgment of your First Amendment freedom of speech and of the press—for how free to write your book are you if your right to write it doesn’t come with a concomitant right to all requisite writing supplies at no expense to you?
That aside, one must present proof of identity in order to apply for government benefits available to the impoverished, so if the requirement to produce ID at the ballot box amounts to massive voter suppression, the very same ID requirement must also lead to massive food stamp suppression. And yet, googling “voter suppression” brings up hundreds of thousands of results, whereas googling “food stamp suppression” brings up exactly two.
What conclusion are we draw from this disparity other than that ID requirements don’t suppress anything, for if they did, how could they keep eligible voters from voting but not keep eligible food stamp recipients from receiving their food stamps?
Be this my Austrian or my conservative half talking, but opposition to voter ID laws strikes me as driven by nothing save the desire to get as many non-citizens as possible to vote in federal elections.