I Am Not a Hypothetical

UPDATE: Loren in the comments pointed out that Arizona’s ID law passed during the 2004 election and didn’t take effect until after, and so this law was not in effect during the election I claim. I have to admit that this fact blindsided me. I didn’t look up the date this law was passed because my memory felt so strong that the need to verify the date just didn’t even occur to me. This was a major oversight.

There are two ways in which my memory could be wrong. Some have pointed out to me that it is not unheard of for poll workers to not understand the law. It’s possible that the story happened at the time I thought it happened but the poll worker misunderstood that the ID law had not yet been enacted.

However, I find it far more likely that I am just misremembering the election that this event occurred. Being denied my right to vote was a rather traumatic event for me and I remember being extremely upset. In retrospect I sort of assumed this was because it was a presidential election. However, 2006 was Gabby Giffords’ first run for Congress in my congressional district. I was a supporter and excited to vote for her.  It’s possible that the emotions I felt at being denied my vote were due to my love of Gabby Giffords rather than the excitement of a presidential election.

Although my memory still insists this happened in 2004, the facts mean that I am very clearly wrong. My memory is fallible and led me astray. I apologize for not verifying this prior to posting. I’m going to let the post stand as-is but with this update. Just be aware that this event likely happened during the congressional election in 2006 and was also not the first election I voted in.

* * *


The big news from the Supreme Court today was the decision to invalidate the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act, a decision that will likely increase voter disenfranchisement in the coming years.

The idea of disenfranchised voters is always talked about like some sort of hypothetical. Governors and other politicians pushing for laws such as voter ID laws often make the claim that these laws will stop only those mystical fraudulent voters and not stop any of the legally registered citizens from casting their vote. The other side then argues back and claims that there are all sorts of situations in which a legal citizen would not meet the requirements to cast a ballot. Often though, these situations are considered too uncommon to really matter or the argument is made that if a person really cared about voting, they would make sure to get the proper ID prior to election day.

For now, I’d like to ignore all these hypotheticals and just tell a personal story about voting in my first presidential election.

Back in 2004 I was living and going to college in Arizona. Bush was seeking reelection for his second term and Kerry was challenging him. I wasn’t particularly politically active but remained tangentially aware of what was going on in the presidential race and eventually formed an opinion on who I was going to vote for. Most of all though, I was just excited to get to vote at all.

Back when I was a little kid my mom used to take me with her to the polls and let me watch her vote. Now, I was finally going to get to cast a ballot myself. I took the decision seriously, did my research and was ready to vote.

I found my voting location and made sure I had brought my driver’s license and passport because I had heard Arizona was requiring ID to vote. When I finally made it to the front of the line, I handed the poll worker the forms of ID I had brought with me. That’s when she told me that these were not going to work.

You see, the ID requirements in Arizona were that you needed a form of ID that connected your photo to your name and your address. The trick was that the address had to match the address of the voter registration.  My passport had my name and photo but no address. My license had an address, but because I was a student the address on the ID was for my parents’ house, not the address that I was living in and registered at. My license and passport were not good enough to allow me to vote in Arizona.

I begged the poll worker to allow me to cast my ballot. I showed her the contents of my wallet, with all the credit cards and student ID, but it was to no avail. Even with all the IDs I had, it wasn’t the right types of ID to pass through Arizona’s strict voter laws. The poll worker sent me home crying.

Respect My Vote

I went home with the list of legally acceptable documentation and went through my house looking for something that fit. They said you could bring in certain types of utility bills, but all the bills at our apartment were in my roommate’s name. I had lots of other mail addressed to me, but none of it was the legally accepted type of mail.

The only thing they had on the list that I might possibly have was one of those Voter ID cards they send you when you register to vote. I know I had gotten one but couldn’t remember what I had done with it or even if I had kept it. After searching my room, I eventually found it buried at the bottom of my filing box. I went back to my polling station, waited in line again, showed the poll worker my voter registration card and was finally handed a ballot and allowed to cast my vote.

I’m glad my story had a happy conclusion, but it still amazes me how close I came to being denied my legal right to vote as an American citizen. Arizona’s voter ID laws were an active barrier to my participation in the electoral process. I was lucky to have had the time, energy and luck to be able to overcome these barriers, but I know that there must be many others that have failed and been denied their right to vote.

Today’s Supreme Court decision angers me because it makes it easier for other states to pass the same types of voter ID laws that Arizona has. In fact, our own Skepchick Will informed me today that in only a mere two hours after the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act, Texas announced that they were going to try to pass their own voter ID law similar to that of Arizona.

These things aren’t just hypotheticals. The stricter we make our voting laws, the more people will fall through the cracks and be denied their right to vote. I know this first hand.

All photos by Jamie Bernstein

Jamie Bernstein

Jamie Bernstein is a data, stats, policy and economics nerd who sometimes pretends she is a photographer. She is @uajamie on Twitter and Instagram. If you like my work here at Skepchick & Mad Art Lab, consider sending me a little sumthin' in my TipJar: @uajamie

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  1. Just a minor nitpick: technically they didn’t invalidate the preclearance provision (Section 5); they eliminated the provision that determined what states and localities had to submit to the preclearance provision (Section 4). It effectively eliminates preclearance until a new formula is set up (good luck with the current Congress getting it done), except for any jurisdiction that may have been “bailed in” (a method separate from Section 4 to make them submit to preclearance) or may be bailed in later on… but the latter takes time as well.

    1. Yah, that’s true. I just meant that they invalidated the current preclearance provision as it stands now, not any preclearance provision. Since this post wasn’t really about the specifics of the recent SCOTUS decision, I didn’t want to get bogged down in details and just provided a link instead. I probably should have used more specific language around it though.

  2. If you agree there must some means of ensuring people who vote are who they say they are and actually reside in the district in which they intend to vote, then what would be an acceptable method of meeting these requirements?

    1. If the issue really were about making sure there was no voter fraud, every citizen could be issued free voter ID upon turning 18. Updating the ID due to moving or going to college would also be free. And there would be penalties for districts that didn’t provide the IDs in a timely fashion. But this isn’t about voter fraud, because that’s all but nonexistent. You might as well require IDs to prevent people from stealing moon rocks.

      Voter ID laws are a carefully designed sieve to catch minorities and poor people.

  3. I think this is a huge mistake for the Republicans on the court. They think they are helping their party but they are killing it.

    Until now the voter suppression has been mostly unreported. The blatant corruption of Katherine ‘stuffer’ Harris was barely mentioned. Only Palast pointed out that her voter list purge had removed 100,000 legitimate voters, mostly black people from the rolls. In Ohio Ken Blackwell corruptly and intentionally engineered long voter lines in democratic areas with broken machines and insufficient machines. The long lines in Florida in 2012 were deliberate as well.

    But the tactics aren’t working and they are killing the GOP in the long term. Every student that is being denied the right to vote through GOP corruption knows the cause. There is no better way to create a lifelong Democratic voter than for a Republican to slam the door to the polling station in their face. That is why the African American community votes 90% democratic and why the Latino community is trending that way.

    Texas is trending purple and Florida is starting to look less purple and more blue. Texas is the last of the big five states that votes Republican. Without at least one of the Big five states or support in New England, it is mathematically impossible to take the White House.

    Putting their thumb on the scales to get their party elected is allowing the GOP to retreat further into the Faux News bubble and get more isolated and more extreme and more stupid by the day.

    The actual effect of the court decision is likely to be rather modest because the Bush administration allowed Republicans to gerrymander at will and most of those restrictions are still in place. The pre-clearance issue does not prevent a court injunction. The table was already heavily shifted to the GOP but the establishment press was pretending not to notice.

  4. I had basically the same thing happen to me in Arizona in 2006. I was a student (but I have been an Arizona resident since 1987, and a Tucson resident since 1998), living in an apartment with a roommate whose name was on the bills, and the printed address on my driver’s license was out of date. They offered to let me cast a provisional ballot, but I opted to go home and try to find my voter registration card. As I was filtering my way out, some guy exchanged a few pleasantries with me, and I mentioned as small talk how it was frustrating to go through that kind of red tape, and the dude exploded on me, erupting into this freaky tirade about illegals and how I was an entitled brat, etc. Then he followed me out into the parking lot, got into his truck, and continued shouting at me as he drove off!

    The attempted voting experience had been pretty frustrating, but the volunteered were all pretty kind and sympathetic about it. So I was annoyed but not, y’know, unhappy, until the freaky shouty guy, and then, to my huge embarrassment, I started crying. One of the volunteers who had seen the whole thing came up and gave me the nicest hug. So the whole thing was a mixed bag, and I did end up getting to vote later in the day, but jeez. That whole thing should not have happened.

  5. “Back in 2004 I was living and going to college in Arizona. Bush was seeking reelection for his second term and Kerry was challenging him…You see, the ID requirements in Arizona were that you needed a form of ID that connected your photo to your name and your address…Even with all the IDs I had, it wasn’t the right types of ID to pass through Arizona’s strict voter laws…Arizona’s voter ID laws were an active barrier to my participation in the electoral process.”

    Based on a cursory review, I don’t think that’s true. Arizona started requiring photo ID after the passage of Proposition 200, but Prop 200 was *passed* on Election Day 2004. It didn’t take effect for any major elections until 2006. And Arizona law apparently did not require the production of ID to vote prior to Prop 200. (See bottom of )

    So if a poll worker in 2004 was demanding photo ID and address consistency, and refusing to accept a license and passport, that wasn’t the fault of any Arizona law. It was the fault of that poll worker.

    1. Loren, you are totally right! I swear it was in 2004, but I’m going by memory and clearly the facts invalidate that. I lived and voted in Arizona from 2002 to 2010 and must have just mixed up the election in my memory. I’m going to update the post to clarify that I am wrong about the date this happened. Thank you so much for pointing this out!

      1. This just goes to show how human memory is fallible. Jamie, it is awesome of you to check this out post a correction.

        If only people would do this when, for instance, they forget about episodes of harassment that they not only witnessed, but actually personally dealt with a year previously :-(

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