The Heuristic Method

a scrappy blog for aspiring writing


Common Sense Disenfranchisement

Common sense is not so common

It’s that time of year again in the United States, when even the unsung majority of people are turning their minds’ eye towards politics and public policy. I find rhetoric abhorrent, but I tend to be very engaged in policy. Unfortunately, Voter ID laws combine the worst of both: harmful public policies explained by sophistic rhetoric.

Here in Minnesota, the matter of Voter ID has been put to public referendum, and the political ad firms have been canvasing the state. The message they have settled on is completely inscrutable to me. Some billboards show a veteran hugging their small child, while others are like the one pictured above: a smirking elderly man wearing an Old Glory t-shirt, telling me how “It’s Common Sense”.

Ironic that they paid an untold sum to invasively advertise in the hopes of convincing me of their point of view, while also maintaining that it’s common sense, or a belief held by a majority of people. The fact of the matter is, this appeal to popularity is a logical fallacy used to conceal a morally reprehensible goal.

Turns out, voter fraud is extremely rare and not worthy of the scrutiny it has received. What is worth the effort to some, however, is the suppression of voter rights in certain populations to help gain political advantage.

In the ten states that have enacted restrictive voter ID laws, 11% of eligible voters1 are unable to vote without obtaining a voter identification card. Of these 11%, a disproportionate percentage are ethnic minorities. To disenfranchise these groups of people is disgusting and also illegal, thanks to the Voting rights Act2.

Freedom Isn’t Free

The notion that these initiatives protect voting rights is counterintuitive and counterfactual. More than 1 million eligible voters in these voter ID states fall below the federal poverty line and live more than 10 miles from their nearest ID-issuing office open more than two days a week. For those without adequate ID of other types, the barriers continue to increase. Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25. Marriage licenses, required for married women whose birth certificates include a maiden name, can cost between $8 and $20. The provisions in place to ensure free voter identification are objectively inadequate.

A poll tax receipt.

The burden these laws place on the right to vote recalls similar legislation from 100 years ago. Poll taxes were a transparent attempt to disenfranchise voters below a certain socioeconomic level, with the not-so-subtle benefit of also disenfranchising the recently freed slave population. 100 years later, the goal is the same, and it is as disgusting as ever.

  1. The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification." Brennan Center for Justice, 17 July 2012. 

  2. The Voting Rights Act of 1965: “No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color… To assure that the right of citizens of the United States to vote is not denied or abridged on account of race or color, no citizen shall be denied the right to vote in any Federal, State, or local election because of his failure to comply with any test or device in any State with respect to which the determinations have been made under subsection (b) or in any political subdivision with respect to which such determinations have been made as a separate unit”