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January 23, 2008

Great student input on IDs and felon disenfranchisement

I hope today's class discussion helped folks get a sense of how I plan to use the "who" system (though I also hope that I'll get to more "whos" in each class and I want on Friday to quiz more "whos" about whether and how they care about classic issues related to electoral structures). 

Also, I am pleased to now post — and encourage comment reaction to — two great e-mail I received from students after class:

Comment #1:

I'm glad we got to discuss the issue of IDs and the impact it would have on voters, but I couldn't figure out where on the blog a comment about that would go.  I think it's easy for sheltered law students (who might not even know what current postage rates are due to online bill pay) to forget that voting in person takes a lot of time, in Columbus especially (I waited over two and a half hours in the rain in 2004).  Students don't want to miss class and working people don't want to ask for the time off or risk being late to work.  To get an government issued ID isn't easy: it takes transportation, money, and most importantly time to wait in line, go home to get even more documents and then go back and wait in an even longer line!  So it is nice that there is a more liberal policy now about absentee ballots in Ohio, but you have to know about them to make use of them, and as was evident in class, there are lots of educated people who don't know the rules about the absentee ballots, so how on earth can we expect everyone to know the current rules and take advantage of this easier method?

Comment #2:

I think this may be a very relevant article about how 1 person, 1 vote concept is undermined in our present system.  This article talks about black votes being suppressed by conviction in our penal system.

Many thanks to these students for sharing reactions and resources that are so blog-worthy.  Needless to say, these students earn some of those magical Berman bonus points.

January 23, 2008 in Class reflections | Permalink


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Glad to see someone posted the article about prisoners and voting rights.

In the 2004 election, I volunteered with the Racial Fairness Project Ohio and registered voters at the Cuyahoga County jail. Those eligible to register (at that time) were the inmates who were awaiting trial or serving sentences for misdemeanors. I don’t know if it’s changed since then.

Also, according to this 2004 Enquirer article, Ohio is one of is one of 12 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allows ex-felons to regain voting rights once released from prison. http://www.enquirer.com/editions/2004/08/04/loc_exfelons04.html

Posted by: Stephanie | Jan 23, 2008 10:35:40 PM

I just wanted to point out Ohio’s ID provision in the context of today’s discussion. If you read Ohio’s provision, you will find the General Assembly made every effort to ensure that no voter was disenfranchised (see O.R.C. 3505.18). There is even an affidavit procedure that was intended to ensure that transient/homeless Ohioans have an opportunity to vote (or those that claim not to have a SSN). An example of the acceptable methods of ID:
• a current and valid photo identification;
• a military identification that shows the voter's name and current address;
• a copy of a current utility bill;
• bank statement;
• government check;
• paycheck; or
• other government document.

Upon enactment, every registered voter in the state was mailed a notice of this change and this ID requirement is posted on nearly every relevant voting form.

As for the long lines in ’04 – thanks in large part to increased turnout in precincts that historically had low turnouts (think urban and campus areas) and a finite number of voting machines, the County Boards simply miscalculated demand. (Some entities tried to make this into a partisan battle – however Ohio’s elections are actually administered by bipartisan county boards of election where every decision requires agreement between both parties – thus R’s and D’s both determine where and how many machines are deployed) As a result of the lines, the General Assembly mandated a machine/voter ratio for each polling location (the feds gave us one-time money to pay for it).

Absentee voting may well be the way to go in the future. From my experience, the postage is usually close to a dollar b/c of the extra envelopes required to assure the secrecy of your ballot. As Berman mentioned – Ohio will become the center of the political universe soon enough. Thus, both national parties will expend several million dollars to help you vote via absentee- if you are a consistent primary voter of a single party – expect a phone call or a knock at the door for an absentee ballot application, in fact, expect several.

Posted by: Chris Ingram | Jan 24, 2008 12:27:13 AM

Towards the end of the article in comment #2 there was this statement:

"Proving to the courts that the state laws establishing disenfranchisement constitute intentional discrimination against Blacks has been a difficult hurdle to overcome."

This directly brings up the point that we covered in class when discussing the 2nd amendment case: trying to get a "good" plaintiff. Normatively it's unfortunate that it matters so much, but it is the reality that convicts probably don't make the most sympathetic of plaintiffs.

Posted by: Amanda | Jan 24, 2008 6:17:51 PM

In class it was mentioned that photo IDs cost money, this is not not the case (at least cash dollars) in Indiana (where the case before SCOTUS takes place), the state government specifically made photo IDs free for this reason.

There are costs in everything. There is a cost to registering to vote, there is a cost to determining where you should vote (actually-if you a transient voter this is likely the hardest thing to do),there is a cost in voting, and there is a cost in getting an ID. As far as those costs go, getting an ID once every so often is generally pretty low, and I'd argue a worthwhile cost to ensure fair elections.

It is also worth mentioning that Jimmy Carter made requiring photo ID one his recommendations for voter reform in America: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/july-dec05/reform_9-19.html

Posted by: Nathan | Jan 24, 2008 6:38:11 PM

Yes, of course—there is a cost, there is always a cost. But costs are relative. The time/actual cost of getting a state ID for most people in law school is low, I imagine—and I say this knowing that none of us are making any money right now.

For others, the “low” cost is high. While getting the ID is free, in Indiana, getting the birth certificate that one might have to produce to get the ID is not free. From NPR story earlier this month:

"The League of Women Voters has filed a brief with concrete examples. One of those examples is the case of Kim Tillman of Indianapolis, a stay-at-home wife of a janitor and mother of seven children ages 1 to 11. In order to get the free voter ID card, she had to get her birth certificate from out of state, a process that she said would have cost as much as $50. And that was money she needed for household bills. Not being able to vote, she says, made her feel like she wasn't a citizen.

'I believe that I should be able to have a voice ... to say who I would like governing the state that I live in,' Tillman says. 'But unfortunately because of the state laws I'm unable to do that.'" ((http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17942818 ):

And this—the issue of requiring IDs—is not just a question of the poor, and of money. A close relative of mine is in assisted living. He does not drive; he is not poor. But with no license, and no way to get it (okay, he could’ve taken a cab, but is old enough that the idea of taking cabs is anathema), we as his relatives, helped him get it—of course we did. But other elderly people may not have the same luxury of asking others to help.

Of course, according to former DOJ employee Chief John Tanner, who said—in addressing the problem of elder people being disproportionately affected by voter ID laws—that aging is not a problem for minorities because “minorities don't become elderly the way white people do; they die first.” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16078944

When I look at how awful voter turnout is, and how especially bad it is among certain groups, I think that perhaps we should be a bit cautious about enacting laws like requiring IDs that will be easy for most of us who are already voting to live with. I am not saying we should not do it—and I want to know more about Jimmy Carter’s rationale. But it’s a balancing test—and when faced with it, I am generally probably going to go with the way that will get more people to vote.

Posted by: Stephanie | Jan 24, 2008 9:11:33 PM

balancing test—and when faced with it, I am generally probably going to go with the way that will get more people to vote.

Posted by: red bottom shoes | Jul 25, 2011 10:42:36 PM

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