Voter ID laws and Shklar

Judith Shklar paints a picture of American Citizenship for her readers in “American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion” and what she believes it entails, the right to earn, and the right to vote. “To be a voter was thus as much a condition as a call to action, and those who do vote today are still celebrating the civic estate for which many generations of excluded men and women have fought so energetically” (Shklar 28). Shklar simply puts it, without the right to vote you are a slave.

With the recent election coming up and the importance of every voice being heard, many people are coming out of the woodwork to vote that haven’t done so in the past. In my experience as a middle class white female, it’s been evident to me that anyone can do it today. Obviously it was taught to me in school that it hasn’t always been this way, with voting laws promoting the political beliefs of white land-owning males. But it has to be different, it must be different right? All that is needed on November 4th is a government issued id! Anyone can do it!

Here’s where things get a little blurry. A government issued id. Can be found at your local DMV for a mere 15 dollars. 100 for a passport, and most drivers licenses are around 30. What if  you don’t have any of the above though? Maybe you don’t have access to a dmv? Maybe you’re an undocumented citizen, and even if you had a way to get to the DMV, you wouldn’t have a way to get a drivers license, or an id for that matter. Its argued that these laws are silly, voter id fraud is less than one percent. says from 2000 to 2012 only 2,068 cases have been reported! Wow! Wait a second – if you had committed voter fraud, what are the odds you actually come forth and say you had committed the crime, knowing you’d be facing up to five years in prison. Hmmm….. Isn’t that kind of like a border patrol agent saying they’ve apprehended “15 % of all undocumented persons in Yuma Arizona this year!” How are we getting this number? The data certainly seems questionable to me, regardless of the source being biased or not.

According to Shklar, voting is more about social standing than anything. She tells us of former slaves who strongly support the right to vote not only because of their part in the democratic process, but more importantly because voting and citizenship go hand and hand. “Nothing is more unequally distributed than social respect and prestige” one group of people having the right to vote over another is alluding to the fact that certain groups are granted superior social standings, Shklar tells us. Would Shklar argue that voter id laws target those of a certain race, socioeconomic class or gender? Do we unknowingly still support slavery by having voter id laws? Where can the line be drawn for voters needing to present identification at the polls this November?

Shklar, Judith N. American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1991. Print.

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4 Responses to Voter ID laws and Shklar

  1. As the Voting Rights Director for a local nonprofit I find it worrying that you seem to be questioning the statistics concerning voter fraud in the country. While I admit that we must always be wary of unfair practices and deception, the integrity of our election systems is almost always under immense scrutiny. My organization belongs to a coalition of over 20 nonprofits that are working to ensure fair, open, and transparent election in Arizona.

    Consider the fact that the government holds a voter registry in Arizona, so only people registered to vote can actually vote. This means any and all cases of voter fraud that could be prevented by our ID laws (among the strictest in the country) are those in which someone impersonates a registered voter. As the Brennan Center puts it: “Such photo ID laws are effective only in preventing individuals from impersonating other voters at the polls — an occurrence more rare than getting struck by lightning.”

    As well, most voter “fraud” cases are actually simple misunderstandings or mistakes. Common examples are voters that turn in an early ballot, forget, and vote in person as well; a voter may have homes in two locations and mistakenly vote in two elections; a voter may simply have made a typo in their registration form; even the voters we hear “voting from the grave” simply sent in early ballots and died before the election.

    Indeed, when it comes down to it, voter “fraud” is more often than not the result of government negligence. Dead voters on registration rolls happens because government is not cross-referencing the registration rolls with death records. Voters that vote under a “different name” often had typos and incorrect ballots, they vote on one, get a correction, and then send the second one in thinking their first was illegitimate.

    These simple mistakes create a narrative that allows the media to plaster headlines about voter fraud everywhere, but this is a misnomer. Are the statistics still a problem? Yes. Are the information management systems atrocious? Yes. But does this leave us susceptible to voter fraud? No, it just means we are spending far more resources than we should on incorrect and inaccurate information.

    Lastly, remember that all states have their own election policies, and most states actually leave elections up to the counties (as is this case in Arizona). Which really means our election system is so scrutinized, so decentralized, and so complicated, that any sort of voter fraud on a significant level is improbable, impractical, and highly unlikely.


  2. While I agree that our system of voting is susceptible to fraud, I do not think that it is truly an issue that threatens the outcome of elections. Like Tanner said, there is so much scrutiny and so many eyes watching over the process of voting that it would be very difficult for voting fraud to take place. Is that to say that fraud never occurs? Of course not; however, I believe that most errors that arise in the voting system are due to the complexity, and ultimately, chaotic set up of voting that we currently have in place. We are one of the only major countries functioning under a democracy that still instills the responsibility to register to vote on the citizens of our country. As a result, I believe the intricate process of registering to vote proves itself to be more of a challenge in the political realm of voting than does the threat of voting fraud. If anything, I believe our focus should shift to modernizing our way of registering citizens to vote. The federal and state governments should play more of an active roll in taking some of the responsibility and chaos of voter registration off of the shoulder’s of citizens, and instead, take part in creating a system where the government is responsible for registering their citizens to vote. Perhaps then, we would see an increase in the amount of eligible voters, and as a result, an increased favor and representation of the public through the candidential selection.

  3. reneucros says:

    You pose an interesting argument showing the similarities between two different issues where the numbers are merely estimates because we can’t know the real number of perpetrators. The only problem I have with this is the fact that you say 2,068 cases between 2,000 and 2,012; let’s say that number is 10% of all voter fraud. This means that in twelve years there were 20,680 cases of voter fraud which includes six election years three of which were presidential election years. These are pennies in the big picture. The Gore vs. Bush recount was due to a 2,000 vote lead in one election because that is way too close(even though I do wish wore had kept the win even by that close), every time it is that close they will recount and these numbers really don’t make enough of a different for us to say that it is equivalent to slavery. Undocumented workers can’t vote BECAUSE they are undocumented meaning that they are not really citizens of this country therefore they shouldn’t be able to weigh in on policies affecting legal citizens. Unfortunately the path to citizenship is difficult and intense and costly and I do think it should be fixed but in the meantime it doesn’t mean that undocumented workers should have the right to vote. How do you choose who has the right to vote? Someone who’s been here for a day? a month? a year?

  4. moarmouat says:

    Who has discretion when it comes to choosing who has the right to vote and who does not? I would argue that Shklar would argue that voter laws would target people of certain socioeconomic class and even race. Felons are still a part of society, but are denied the right to vote. Consequently, they are denied the opportunity of “standing.” Unlike undocumented immigrants, felons are often a part of the working class, contributing to society. Therefore, they should have the right to vote and have the right to the opportunity of “standing” and being a part of the “in” club.

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