It Could Have Happened Here? Vote Suppression Attempts 2011

Nevadans may be partially excused for smugly watching the vote suppression sagas in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, and Texas — BUT before we become entirely too self-congratulatory about our inclusive voting system and our generally competently run elections — we need to recall there were several bills introduced in the 2011 Legislature which were ALEC’s progeny.  Here’s one, introduced by state Senator Mike Roberson (R-Clark5):

AN ACT relating to elections; requiring photographic identification for voting; requiring  county clerks to issue voter identification cards under certain circumstances; requiring  persons who apply for absent ballots to provide certain information to county and city  clerks; and providing other matters properly relating thereto.

Section 2 provides a definition of “photographic identification” that is limited to a driver’s license or identification card issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles, an identification card issued by a branch of the Armed Forces of the United States, a United States passport, an identification card issued by an Indian tribe or a voter identification card issued by a county clerk.

The bill failed “the deadline” and was not considered after April 16, 2011.  In other words, Senator Roberson sought legislation to prevent voter impersonation fraud in Nevada, the only election irregularity addressed in this bill —  a problem that frankly doesn’t exist.  News21’s investigation of voting problems in the United States yielded 2,068 cases of alleged election fraud since 2000.  The only two cases cited in Nevada dealt with the zealous prosecution of ACORN which did NOT involve impersonation fraud, but with two organization leaders who improperly paid employees associated with ProjectVote to collect voter registration applications.

Busefink/Howell: A former supervisor affiliated with the political advocacy group ACORN agreed to a plea deal Monday in a case alleging illegal bonus payments to workers registering voters in Nevada during the 2008 presidential campaign. [LVRJ]

Senator Roberson’s bill captured the spirit of the right wing American Legislative Exchange Council’s model legislation on voter identification at the polls, but did not address the only actual election management issues in the only prosecutable cases known in the state.  In short, it was legislation in search of a problem.  Had Roberson’s bill been enacted the problem would have been how to get a voting ID card.

(1) Department of Motor Vehicles: Full service offices are located in Carson City, Elko, Ely, Fallon, Hawthorne, Henderson, (2) Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Laughlin, Mesquite, Pahrump, Reno, Tonopah, Winnemucca, and Yerington.  That’s 16 full service offices to serve a state of 109,806 square miles.

(2) Military ID:  The primary types of U.S. military ID cards being issued today are the CAC for active duty and Reserve members, the Department of Defense (DD) Form 2 for retirees, and DD Form 1173 for dependents.  So far, so good.  Now, here comes the fun.  Military service numbers for identification purposes began in 1918 and were discontinued in 1974, moving to the use of Social Security numbers for identification until 2011 when the military reverted to service numbers in an effort to prevent members of the armed forces from being victims of identity theft.   All service members will have the “new” numbers in 2015.

Note that the legislation proposed by Senator Roberson doesn’t appear to include the Veterans’ Administration identity card which, also for security reasons, doesn’t put personal information on the document:

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides eligible Veterans a Veterans Identification Card (VIC) for use at VA Medical Facilities. The VIC protects the privacy of Veterans’ sensitive information, as it no longer displays the Social Security Number or Date of Birth on the front of the card. The VIC will only display the Veteran’s name, picture, and special eligibility indicators – Service Connected, Purple Heart and Former POW, if applicable, on the front of the card. Only Veterans who are eligible for VA medical benefits will receive the card.

Thus, including the VA card doesn’t address Senator Roberson’s “concern” for vote integrity, but NOT including it could cause an unfortunate repeat of the story of 86 year old WWII veteran Paul Carroll of Portage County, Ohio: “A Portage County World War II veteran was turned away from a polling place this morning because his driver’s license had expired in January and his new Veterans Affairs ID did not include his home address.” [CPD]  Nothing like preventing members of the Greatest Generation from ‘fraudulently voting?’

(3) A passport:  I’m looking at my passport, the identification portion of which contains a very unflattering photograph, my nationality, my place of birth and birthday, and an expiration date.  As far as the Department of State is concerned I could be living in West Moose Fart, Montana.  How this form of identification is supposed to insure I am legally voting in Nevada is a very good question — in addition to which these things are expensive.  The going rate for a new one is $110.00.

(4) Tribal Identity Cards:  Once upon a time there were federal “Certificates of Indian Blood.” A Certificate Degree of Indian Blood does not establish membership in a tribe. Tribal membership is determined by tribal laws and may or may not require a CDIB or may require a separate tribal determination of ancestry or blood degree.  The Nevada list of recognized tribes shows which groups could issue tribal identity cards.  However, one doesn’t need to live on the reservation to be a tribal member.  Nor are all tribal people enthusiastic about handing over sovereign powers to determine membership based on documentation from federal authority (birth certificates and Social Security cards.) [TDT]  Some tribes have moved into the ID Age with their own photo-identification documents.  The Navajo Nation launched its tribal ID card program in November 2011:

The photo ID card is the size of a driver’s license, and shows much of the same information – name, birth date, gender, physical characteristics, mailing address, signature and a date of issue and expiration.

But it also lists the person’s tribal enrollment number and Navajo officials say it is an acceptable replacement for the federal Certificate of Indian Blood to prove tribal membership.  [NavTimes]

Note that the $17.00 Navajo Nation identification card shows “mailing address.”  Like much of Nevada, home delivery of mail, so common an identifier in urban areas, isn’t reality in rural regions.   I could tick off 50 or so tribal and non-tribal people in this area, Democrats, Republicans, American Independents, Libertarians alike who all “live” in Post Office Boxes.   While Senator Roberson’s bill addresses voter impersonation fraud — which hasn’t happened in Nevada — it obviously doesn’t concern any other form of voting irregularity.

(5) Voter ID from the County Clerk:  Nevada has 16 counties and one independent city.  Humboldt County has 9,648 sq miles, mostly of miles. Lincoln County has 10,635 sq miles, also mostly of miles.  The aforementioned Nye County has 18,147 sq miles, also mostly of miles.  So, residents of Railroad Valley have to go to Tonopah? Denio residents have to travel to Winnemucca?  Residents of Alamo need to go to Pioche?  How … inconvenient.

Suppression by Paperwork

In short all Senator Roberson’s bill did was to demand that every voter in the Silver State obtain some form of photo identification to prevent a problem we’ve not had from happening.   To put it rather unkindly, the provisions of the bill were not very short of intentional voter harassment.

You are a citizen of Nevada living in Esmeralda County with no DMV office, or you are a citizen of Nevada living in the Railroad Valley area? Then pony up for the ride into Tonopah to get an ID?  Are you a veteran who doesn’t have the DoD Form 2 ID and all you have is your VA card?  OK, gran’dad, start doing your paperwork.   Are you a citizen of Nevada, living anywhere without a passport?  Remember, not all Post Offices can do passports, and those things will cost you $110, whether you use it to visit your bank account in Switzerland or not.   Are you a tribal member? Does your tribe have fancy new ID’s?  Some do, some don’t.  Should your RIGHT to vote be determined by which tribe you belong to?

And all this just to “prevent” a problem of voter impersonation we don’t have.

Worse still, Senator Roberson wasn’t alone.  Other bills were introduced in the 2011 session of the Nevada legislature to harass voters and suppress voting.  They came from Assemblyman Hambrick’s AB 327, from Assemblymen Stewart and Woodbury’s AB 425, from Assemblyman Hansen’s AB 431, and from Assemblyman Hardy’s AB 434.

And all this just to “prevent” a problem of voter impersonation we don’t have.

Voting in a democracy isn’t a privilege; it’s a RIGHT.  The burden of proof that you aren’t who you say you are still rests with the State.  You are not “guilty until proven innocent.”  Register, vote, and participate.  And, during this campaign season ask prospective members of the state Senate and Assembly what they’re doing to promote democracy, and if they intend to re-introduce legislation into the next session of the legislature to stifle it.

We have enough real  issues in Nevada to deal with,  more than enough to avoid wasting time on imaginary ones.  The arguments about “preventative measures to protect your vote,” are nothing more than smoke screens to obfuscate proposals making it harder for you to vote.  The contentions that our elections are rife with fraud and abuse are hot air inflating an issue by conflation, obfuscation, and some very creative definitions of what constitute voting fraud.  Be especially mindful of the Circular Echo Squad: A person alleges “voting fraud,” then the newspaper picks up the story, and then the person or group alleging the fraud uses the newspaper article as “prof” of its existence.

A good politician in a democracy is one who is both aware of popular opinion and wise enough to know when it is contrary to the requisites of good governance.  A poor representative is one who fears his or her constituents and the processes of democracy and therefore seeks to exclude all those who don’t reflect his illusions.

There are choices to be made in 2012, and we should be thankful the 2011 session of the Nevada Legislature didn’t artificially limit the voices and votes of those who will be making them.


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