Everyone would agree that the right to vote is one of the most basic and cherished freedoms in a democracy. A ballot measure facing Oklahoma’s voters in November, SQ 746, raises the question of whether protecting the right to vote against the perceived possibility of fraud is worth the risk of potentially disenfranchising eligible voters.
SQ 746 ( ballot title; full text) would amend Oklahoma’s constitution to require every person appearing to vote to provide proof of identity by presenting either a valid government-issued picture identification or a non-picture voter registration card. Those unable or unwilling to produce proof of identity would be allowed to cast a provisional ballot by swearing an affidavit as to their identity. Oklahoma would join 21 other states that require ID for all voters, of which three – Florida, Indiana, and Georgia – accept only photo IDs.
Proponents of SQ 746 describe it as a “common-sense idea” that would place no more onerous a requirement on those looking to vote as on those cashing a check or boarding an airplane. Although supporters acknowledge that they have found no evidence of major or systematic in-person voter fraud in Oklahoma, SQ 746 is defended as “a pre-emptive step to keep voter fraud from starting.”
The downside to this pre-emptive defense against an as-yet-non-existent problem is the danger it creates of keeping at least some eligible voters from exercising their right to vote. While not expressly prohibiting eligible citizens from voting, the new requirements could lead to uncertainty, confusion, and misunderstanding that is likely to have the effect of keeping some people from casting their ballot. Voters who do not possess a picture ID – a population estimated at 78,000 in Oklahoma, which tends to be made up disproportionately of the poor, elderly, persons with disabilities, and minorities – as well as voters whose drivers’ license or passport has expired and voters who pull up to the polling station and discover they’ve left their ID at home, may assume that they are unable to vote. The procedure for casting a provisional ballot may not be well understood or properly applied at all polling stations across the state, or lead to disputes that could slow down the voting process and lead some eligible voters to give up and head home. In the worst case scenario, eligible groups of voters could be targeted with intentional misinformation as a way to influence election results.
In an editorial, the Oklahoman concedes that “voter fraud has never been much of a problem”, but endorses SQ 746, on these grounds:
But even one fraudulent ballot cast is too many. If voter ID keep someone from voting illegally, it’s worth it.
It seems that the exact opposite case could be made even more compellingly. In a democracy, the burden of proof should always be on establishing a compelling case for limiting or constraining our basic rights. Unlike boarding an airplane or cashing a check, the right to exercise the franchise is a fundamental democratic right. From this perspective, isn’t even one disenfranchised voter too many? If voter ID creates hurdles and keeps someone from voting legally, isn’t it NOT worth it?