The hallmark of a free society and a legitimately functioning democracy is the honest and legal exercise of the voting franchise by its citizens because our fundamental and sacred right to vote is preservative of all other rights.
The hotly debated Georgia election reform law that passed this week, like voting reforms taking place in states across the country, has been highly and purposely mischaracterized. (Louisiana is considering certain election and voting reforms as well). The Georgia law actually expands voting rights and voting flexibility by adding early voting on more weekends and providing additional equipment and workers in larger precincts.
For example, while legal voting would reasonably include requiring a voter to display a valid driver license the Georgia law, nevertheless, allows for a free, state-issued non-driver ID for those without a driver license. However, even those who lack a free, state-issued non-driver ID may still vote if they present a Social Security number, a copy of a current bank statement, utility bill, government check, or paycheck.
It is worth reiterating an unassailable principle: genuine reform of voting laws must begin with requiring valid ID. The request to see a valid ID occurs millions of times across our country every day and the only people who object to its use in voting are doing so on behalf of those who aren’t supposed to be voting in the first place.
In fact, many of the civil liberties we exercise every day are based upon freedoms that stem directly from the Constitution: purchasing a firearm requires valid ID, marrying requires valid ID to obtain a license, boarding an airplane (freedom of movement) requires valid ID, petitioning the government (right of assembly/free speech) in a rally at a public place requires a permit that often requires valid ID, or checking into a hotel (public accommodations) requires valid ID. There are many other similar examples.
Still further, Georgia’s law leaves in place Sunday voting and it also leaves in place “no excuses” absentee voting. This means that every registered Georgia voter may still simply and easily request an absentee ballot for any reason at all. (Many states still require voters, wisely in my view, to provide a valid excuse to vote absentee). Additionally, rather than having poll workers be responsible for deciding if signatures match, Georgia voters will instead submit a state ID number with their ballot. The ID number will either match or it won’t, eliminating the need for subjective scrutiny of a voter’s signature by an election worker.
No election reform or election rules will ever be perfect, but we must strive at the very minimum, in Louisiana and across the country, to ensure that our votes are received and counted honestly. Numerous states already have voter ID requirements enshrined in law and they have been upheld by the Supreme Court.
It cannot be said often enough or loudly enough: our freedom depends upon an honest and transparent vote. The right to vote is a gift that has been purchased with the blood and lives of American soldiers and citizens who bravely spoke out and suffered and died to have their votes—and ours—counted. The right to vote is exceedingly rare throughout history as most who have ever walked on and drawn a breath on this planet have lived under some form of dictatorship, tyrant, or other strongman. That is why Lincoln powerfully and memorably called America’s experiment in democracy the “last best hope” for man on earth. And that is why the legitimate right to vote must be defended at all costs, so we preserve the legitimacy of the government by retaining the consent of the governed.
Royal Alexander is a Shreveport attorney.