During my many debates on Facebook, a discussion came up on voter id laws related to this New York Times post: One Rationale for Voter ID Debunked, G.O.P. Has Another
Eventually I was asked how requiring a license to vote is any different that requiring one to buy a gun, or to drive a vehicle. Due to an error in Facebook, I’m unable to post there. Since I have a blog I rarely use, I thought maybe I’d post it here and see what happens…
My initial take: I do not see any similarities between the right to vote, and the 2nd amendment (nor driving a car, but that’s not in the constitution). This probably opens a huge can of worms, as I personally would dispute that the 2nd amendment explicitly grants an unalienable right to buy a gun (more later).
An interesting ruling recently by the Supreme Court seemed to indicate you do not need a license to drive. Snopes provides some good clarity on that here: http://www.snopes.com/supreme-court-rules-drivers-licenses-unnecessary/
In essence, while you may not be required to have a license technically, the government has the right to regulate driving. This makes sense, as a vehicle has the potential to cause a lot of damage to people and property. Also, there are so many laws around driving, that requiring a license provides some level of assurance a person can operate a vehicle. Finally, and most importantly, we are talking distinctly about a physical object being used by an individual. You don’t need a license to buy a car, but you do need one to drive it.
What’s most interesting to me about the 2nd amendment, and how vehemently people defend this right, is that the amount of detail and clarification is very minimal. It amounts to 14 words that are not even the main subject of the sentence “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” In that sentence alone, there are words that interest me, such as “keep” and “bear.” There is no mention of “purchase.” Another interesting aspect is the first part of the amendment: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…” – In this sentence, the word “regulated” also has some interest to me.
So, guns, like vehicles, are objects people purchase (or make?). In the 2nd amendment, there is no mention about the purchasing of guns, just the keeping and bearing of arms. Also, more interesting to me is that all the other amendments in the bill of rights seem to state the main intent of that amendment in the first few words. That is, the subject of the amendment comes first. Yet, using that logic, the subject of the 2nd amendment appears to be related to “a well regulated militia.” That, to me, seems to imply that the remainder of the sentence has to do with a militia. I’ve read the counter arguments there, but being someone who likes to break down words and logic, I can’t understand why people get so hung up arguing the latter half of the sentence somehow has more significance than the former. The 2nd amendment seems to speak of the right of the people, as part of a regulated militia, to keep and bear arms. When needing some frame of reference to make sure I understand the intent, I just need to look at the other amendments to see that the main subject of those come first… so why would the 2nd amendment somehow be different?
Okay, I went on a tangent, but the premise you both are trying to get at is that requiring a license to buy a firearm somehow impinges on your constitutional right – and / or, you are implying that since you can be required to provide a license to buy a gun, then you should be required to provide one to vote.
Now that I’ve set up some of the premises, let’s look at voting, and how it differs.
Unlike the 2nd amendment, that only has a small mention of “arms”, voting has a lot of amendments. There is extra care to provide more clarity, and to broaden the voting rights of individuals. Remember that voting used to just be for white males, and equal voting rights is more of a recent thing (last 140-ish years). That means that, not so long ago, only a subset of citizens of the US could vote, and primarily this was white males. Women couldn’t vote until 1920. Here is a look at all the amendments related to voting: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Constitutional_amendments_regarding_voting#Amendment_XV_-Rights_Not_to_Be_Denied_on_Account_of_Race.281870.29
So, here are some things I see that make voting distinctly different:
1. A voter is not purchasing anything — they are exercising a right
2. Voting can affect all other rights – yup, voters have the ability to elect officials that have an impact on legislation, and potentially even on the constitution (this, to me, is huge, btw)
3. A person using a vehicle, or buying a gun, has the ability to directly cause harm to individuals – hence the need for regulation (which I will discuss below). Yes, you could argue voters have the ability to harm via their choices (i.e. Trump), but I would wager if you apply the word “regulation” to voting, that would have people up in arms (see what i did there? 😀 )
4. Our constitution is clear about broadening people’s ability to vote – all the new amendments are about increasing rights, not reducing them
Tying it Together: Regulation
So, let’s talk about “regulation” — while some may argue we have too many regulations in our laws, you must also take a step back and look at historical context. Regulations exist for a reason. Maybe we don’t always love the reason, but they aren’t all invented out of the ether. For instance, seat belts are required by law, why? Because too many car accidents resulted in death. Massive studies were done, and it was determined that requiring seat belts would reduce the number of traffic accident deaths. As it turns out, that was the right choice. After seat belt legislation was introduced, the number of deaths from accidents went down (https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/seatbeltbrief/).
For guns, more than 33,000 people die each year (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/gun-deaths/). There is some legislation out there to regulate guns, but frankly, in comparison to what was done with vehicles, I’d call it paltry. You may need a license to buy a gun, but it’s super easy to get one regardless. There is a problem with gun deaths, but not too much regulation, because people get crazy about protecting their “right” to own a gun. This is odd to me, given that the 2nd amendment starts with “a well regulated” militia. Regulated.
So, while there isn’t a ton of regulation on guns, I would argue that regulation for driving a car, or buying a gun, is needed at some level. Regulation comes from experience, facts, figures, and statistics. Needing a license to buy a gun seems to make sense. A gun is dangerous, and you can kill someone with it.
Yet, should we regulate voting? I feel a bit tongue in cheek here, because I guess you could kill people with voting too (Trumpcare!). But, my premise on regulation is that there is usually some trigger for the need. Car crash deaths = need for seat belts. Excessive gun deaths = need for better legislation around buying guns.
The argument on voting by the GOP is “voter fraud.” If such thing was as wide spread as they claimed, then some serious look needs to happen. But, it’s simply not true. There are definitely cases of voter fraud, but it’s so trivial as to not warrant the money and effort to “fix” it. In addition, as noted, voter ID laws harm the ability for minorities to vote, by putting a barrier between them and their constitutional right. As per my original points on voting: our amendments focus on increasing rights to vote, not decreasing it. Voter ID laws would decrease a voter’s ability to vote, and thus, I would argue, impinge on their rights.
To Sum Up
- Voting is not like buying a gun
- Guns / Cars need regulations for historically proven reasons
- Voter ID laws impact the ability for minorities to vote
If voter fraud were to be truly a big issue, then I agree we should find a way to address it. Otherwise, it appears as though voter ID laws are being put in place to help one political party, as it seems those impacted would be more likely to vote for the opposing party. Also, frankly, if we are that concerned about voting as a whole, the taking a hard look eliminating politically-motivated gerrymandering seems like where we should spend our time.
In the end, if we wanted some better way to identify people who vote, then there should be extra effort to ensure whatever approach is used does not impact a person’s ability to vote. I don’t think the current Voter ID laws make an attempt to do this, therefore, they should not exist.
Also published on Medium.