Friday, May 09, 2008

The law of unintended consequences -- Part 9,152

It is widely supposed, in certain circles at least, that Indiana's law to require voters to present identification at the polling place was a sneaky reactionary plot to disenfranchise poor, elderly, disabled and minority voters.

In a word, Democrats.

And these suspicions were confirmed, in those same certain circles at least, when that nasty old Supreme Court upheld the law on April 28, with the plurality opinion written by that extreme right-winger, John Paul Stevens.

No, wait. That doesn't work, does it?

I went outside to cut the grass on Sunday morning and I wasn't carrying my wallet. I felt... less than dressed. In this day and age, who ever goes out in public without some form of identification?

We got our answer Tuesday, during the Indiana primary. The AP reported that 12 nuns from St. Mary's Convent in South Bend, all of them in their 80s and 90s, were turned away when they tried to vote by a fellow nun, Sr. Julie McGuire. Sr. Julie was apparently serving as election judge -- at least the AP story says she's the one who turned her older sisters away -- because none of them had any current identification.

Ladies and gentlemen, I put it to you thusly: If the Indiana statute was meant to erect obstacles to the exercise of the franchise by likely Democratic voters, it failed spectacularly.

These nuns weren't going to vote for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton; they weren't going to take Democratic ballots at all.

I can't know this with absolute certainty, of course, because I was not there. But I can so state with an extremely high degree of confidence based on my own experience.

There I was, in the parking lot of our parish school, a polling place for multiple precincts, on Primary Day in Illinois in (I think) 1996. It might have been 1994.

I was running for judge -- and I had been designated by my volunteer coordinator to work my own precinct, handing out my card.

(Of course, my volunteer coordinator was Long Suffering Spouse. She was also the only other volunteer. She had another multi-precinct polling place she was covering elsewhere in the ward.)

About mid-morning, a whole troop of nuns descended en masse on the parking lot, walking over from the hospital convent a little down the road.

These were my people, I thought. Wasn't I active in the parish? Weren't all my children enrolled here at the parish school? (And most of the nuns who could have contradicted this illusion of character that I'd so carefully constructed over the years were surely dead by then... or at least far away on the South Side. So I was pretty confident.)

Some of the good sisters were charitable enough to say that they'd heard my name when I presented my credentials. And they all expressed hopes for my success. And I'm sure they were telling the truth. Nuns wouldn't lie, would they?

But I didn't get a single vote from any of them. Because I was running as a Democrat (as one must if one hopes to be elected to the bench almost anywhere in Cook County).

The nuns had come in a group to support the candidacy of some Republican running for statewide office who'd come out strongly against abortion. Sisters, I tried to tell them, this man couldn't do a thing about abortion unless you could elect him to the Supreme Court of the United States -- and it doesn't work that way.

But the nuns would not be dissuaded.

And that's how I know for sure that those nuns in South Bend, even though they fit the description of elderly and poor, weren't trying to vote Democratic. If you believe the conspiracy theory behind the Indiana law, the nuns and, more to the point, the Republican candidates they'd come out to support, were victims of the law of unintended consequences.


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

yes, all they have to do is SAY abortion and people think they can do something about it themselves. yeesh people, think about this. if it were that simple someone would have already done so... (sorry, just sayin')

smiles, bee

Mother Jones RN said...

I heard about that law on NPR. The law reminds me of a poll tax. For you youngsters reading this post, a poll tax was something that citizens in some states had to pay in order to vote. Fortunately, the 24th Amendment to the Constitution ended that practice back in 1964. Getting an acceptable ID costs money, and can be really hard to get if you’re poor, or elderly…you know, a Democrat. I just think the whole thing stinks.


landgirl said...

I thought yur voter registration card was supposed to be your id for voting. It has your signature, right? You show that, they look it up in the book, match signatures, and then you get a ballot and they note that you have come to vote. That means you are you and you have voted. What is this photo id business? Will nuns be required to take off their wimples to comply with photo regulations? If photo id is important for voter registration, then why not make voter registration cards have photos on them? And then of course what are you going to do about absentee ballots, or as they are called over here, postal votes?

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Politics sounds very difficult in the US.

Ellee Seymour said...

I found this fascinating, and how absurd. Can't somebody challenge this ridiculous, undemocratic law?

Shelby said...

THAT, my friend, is a perfect post.

(you sound like a re-incarnated Churchill)

The Curmudgeon said...

I'm from Chicago, the capital of voter fraud -- not a distinction of which I'm particularly proud, by the way. Here we sign a ballot application when we vote and our signature is compared by the election judges to the signature on file -- and if they match -- or the judges say they match -- the person is allowed to vote.

Signatures change over time. I registered to vote in Chicago over 25 years ago (I was registered in a suburb before that) and my signature has certainly changed in the past quarter century. I have to try and "recapture" the signature I used then to avoid any problem. (It really becomes more of a problem when signing nomination petitions -- but that's a different story.)

Here is the Supreme Court's description of the Indiana law's requirements (footnotes omitted):

Referred to as either the “Voter ID Law” or “SEA 483,” the statute applies to in-person voting at both primary and general elections. The requirement does not apply to absentee ballots submitted by mail, and the statute contains an exception for persons living and voting in a state licensed facility such as a nursing home. Ind. Code Ann. §3–11–8–25.1(e) (West Supp. 2007). A voter who is indigent or has a religious objection to being photographed may cast a provisional ballot that will be counted only if she executes an appropriate affidavit before the circuit court clerk within 10 days following the election. §§3–11.7–5–1, 3–11.7–5–2.5(c) (West 2006). A voter who has photo identification but is unable to present that identification on election day may file a provisional ballot that will be counted if she brings her photo identification to the circuit county clerk’s office within 10 days. §3–11.7–5–2.5(b). No photo identification is required in order to register to vote, and the State offers free photo identification to qualified voters able to establish their residence and identity.

MJ, I haven't studied the opinion to any great extent. But it strikes me that the availability of free photo identification takes this out of the poll tax category.

I must admit to some confusion about the nursing home exception: The nuns in the story I discuss were essentially living in a nursing home. If the elderly nuns were in fact turned away... if the convent did qualify as a nursing home under the statute... their sister may have violated the statute herself.

Nor have I heard or read any other complaints about the burden imposed by this law. If anyone else has seen something, I'd like to know about it.

Patti said...

Curmy, you are such a smart man. You kinda lost me with the Supreme Court description.

I'm lazy, I know.