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.
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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.
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