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Diluting democracy

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“You're required to have a photo ID to get a library card, a video from Blockbuster and get on an airplane, but you're not [to vote] for president of the United States. How sad is that?” — State Rep. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, in support of legislation that would require all voters to show photo identification.

The answer to Representative Woods' earnest question is “not sad at all.” The United States of America is a democracy, the grandest on earth, not a vast commercial enterprise. Not yet, anyway, although Woods' party toils furiously to enhance the corporations' influence on American policy, and diminish the people's. Republicans openly stole one presidential election, assigning Republican members of the Supreme Court to choose the president, and they may have stealthily stolen another. Photo identification of voters would not have prevented either theft. It wasn't the voters who did the thieving.

A photo-ID bill co-sponsored by Woods was defeated in the last session of the legislature. Republican members threaten to try again next year. They cite a study by a University of Missouri professor purportedly showing that a photo-ID requirement does not affect voter turnout. Opponents of photo ID have said that it discourages voting by minorities, the poor and the elderly. There is some research that supports this conclusion, and the Republicans apparently believe it to be true. Minorities, the poor and the elderly — the groups most hurt by Republican policies — are precisely the people Republicans don't want voting. If you're elderly, you're liable to be upset by schemes to dismantle Social Security. If you're in the low-income bracket, you may resent politicians who give tax breaks to the rich while cutting social programs for the poor. If you're a member of a minority that has benefited from affirmative action, you may scorn those who would remove the legal protections against racial discrimination.

(Arkansas has a mild sort of voter-ID law now, but it doesn't require a government-issued photograph.)

Republicans like low turnouts, low and homogeneous. Upper-class white people only, please. The elderly are tolerated if they're in upscale retirement communities clipping coupons, but not if they're in nursing homes on Medicaid. Not, in other words, if they're people who need help from their government, and have every right to expect it.

If there's a problem with American elections, it's that too few people vote — far fewer than in other Western democracies. Clearly, voting is sufficiently difficult already.

Contrary to Representative Woods' belief, the ballot should be more accessible than a Blockbuster video. Our form of government can survive without videos. Without the common people's participation, it cannot.

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