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Community Voices: MA must say no to proposed voter ID legislation

Kevin C. Peterson

As the presidential election season nears, Massachusetts residents have come under a right wing national assault designed to effectively suppress voting rights for African Americans, Latinos, Asians, young people and the elderly.

If allowed, the attack on our electoral system will have decimating effects on the democratic process in the state, leaving many eligible voters on the margins of civil society and unable to engage in the most basic form of civic participation — the right to vote.

Over the last year, 34 state legislatures across the country have proposed laws that would require an official state issued voter identification in order to vote on election day in the November presidential election. And to our collective detriment, in Massachusetts 13 bills are now being considered calling for a photo ID for voting. The net result, if this law is adopted: As much as 12 percent of the otherwise eligible electorate will effectively lose their right to vote, many of whom are poor and can not afford to purchase the required identification.

Of the states where this law has been proposed, seven of them have enacted the requirement into law this year under the direction of Republican-led governors or state leaders, including South Carolina, Alabama, Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Wisconsin and Rhode Island.

In Massachusetts such bills have been proposed mainly by republican lawmakers. Rep. Viriato Manuel deMacedo of Plymouth, Rep. Bradford Hill of Ipswich and Reps. Stephan R. Canessa  of New Bedford and Dan Winslow of Norfolk have all proffered variations of the law.

The larger electorate should take heed to proposed legislation because the voter ID law is regressive and counter productive for a number of reasons:

First, these bills diminish democratic engagement by potentially cutting thousands of voters out of the voting process across the Commonwealth, creating a barrier to the ballot box. The new rules of the game will dictate that if citizens can’t afford the new state issued voter ID, then they are relegated to the status of civic outcasts. The result of the law means that as a citizen, one literally has to “pay to play” in the democratic process.

Second, the photo ID law represents a tax on citizens who, for a number of reasons, currently have no formal state ID issued in their name.  A required ID would come at a cost to some citizens who are indigent and lacking resources. Under such a scenario citizens of financial means possess an unfair advantage over the poor.

Thirdly, the photo ID requirement adds confusion and red tape on election day. The administrative procedures and time delays caused by individually checking voter credentials will place undue stress on election-day poll workers and potentially necessitate prolonging the length of voting day.

To the advantage of voters in the state, the Massachusetts Legislature is heavily weighted toward the Democrats. This would mean that it is unlikely that the Voter ID proposals will not be enacted into law, according to Rep. Michael Moran, who recently chaired the Massachusetts Election Laws Committee.  And, to his credit, Gov. Deval Patrick has signaled that he would veto such legislation if it were to reach his office.

Netherless, it is important that citizens and voting rights advocates remain vigilant and continue to push for a fairer electoral process that is inclusive.

State election turnout results are already painfully low, with barely 50 percent of the Massachusetts voters turning out to the polls. If this proposed law is adopted, the state will reduce the civic capacity of an already anemic body politic.

Kevin C. Peterson is executive director of the New Democracy Coalition.

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