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Wisconsin’s voter ID debate touches everyone

By: Rick Benedict//April 27, 2011//

Wisconsin’s voter ID debate touches everyone

By: Rick Benedict//April 27, 2011//

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There are some laws and public programs that only affect rich people. Others only affect poor people. Some only affect farmers, and others only affect construction workers.

Rare, though, is the public debate in which everyone has a stake. Those are the issues that require lawmakers to empathize with people from all walks of life.

Wisconsin’s proposed voter identification bill, which would require citizens to show photo ID when they vote, is one of those issues.

At the risk of over-generalizing it, Republicans support the bill, saying photo ID would prevent voter fraud, and Democrats oppose it, arguing that it would prevent students, seniors and poor people (you know, typically left-leaning folks) from voting.

During Wednesday’s testimony, a potential scenario was raised in which a married woman might not have a photo identification card with her new name on it, perhaps disqualifying her from voting. An incredulous Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale, questioned how this could be.

“Why has she not done that?” Stone asked. “Because that would be her responsibility to do that.”

Oh, oh, I have an answer!

I happened to be married to a woman who has legally assumed my last name, yet does not have a Wisconsin driver’s license that reflects this change. In the words of Stone, “Why has she not done that?”

Well, for starters, my wife works two blocks from our Madison home, and our lives rarely require driving.

Also, the one day she specifically took off work to visit the Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles, it was closed because of a state furlough day. My wife, like most working folks, doesn’t have a surplus of time allowing multiple trips to the DMV for a document that isn’t entirely necessary.

Nonetheless, she still voted in an election earlier this month – but wouldn’t have been able to if this photo ID bill had been in effect.

Lest it seem I’m taking Stone’s questions personally, I’m really not. I’ve interviewed Stone before, and found him to be courteous and thoughtful. I don’t think he meant to offend anyone with his questions or comments regarding photo ID.

Elected officials – like all of us – often have a limited ability to imagine lifestyles different from their own. Perhaps Stone doesn’t spend much time with people who don’t need, or aren’t able, to drive, and so he’s skeptical of any suggestion that someone would wait an extended period of time to acquire an up-to-date license.

It’s understandable – I struggle to comprehend why someone would drive a Hummer, but I know plenty of intelligent people do.

Plenty of others, though, disregard photo ID because they don’t really need it. And, for such people, this bill would create an extra hurdle between them and their constitutional right to vote.

It’s absolutely valid to debate whether the assured security and legitimacy of our elections justifies new hurdles. Having considered just how easy it seems to walk into a room and vote, I’m open to the idea of photo ID.

But there can’t be honest debate unless everyone at least acknowledges the bill would create hurdles for some people. To deny that is to disregard a multitude of lifestyles, including the homeless and people who simply opt not to drive to conserve energy or cut costs.

I realize carrying an updated driver’s license is a necessity for many, if not most, Americans, and the photo ID bill would not pose a problem for anyone who had one. I’d also agree many public policy issues should be determined by what’s in the best interest of the majority.

I’d submit, though, issues that touch everyone equally — like the photo ID bill — are the ones that should stretch lawmakers to consider the people who are least like themselves.


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