Project 21 New Visions

Charles Butler

ID is a Civic Responsibility


by Charles Butler (bio)

 

President Obama lacks an urban agenda.

Sure — he's all for policies that increase spending on food stamps, dismantle Clinton-era welfare reforms and enforce hiring quotas, but what has Obama really done to help black folk help themselves? It certainly isn't his eagerness to saddle small businesses with new taxes and regulation or to make energy costs a larger part of people's budget.

It's this lack of results that now seems to be causing a pivot from promoting hope and change to fear and division by embracing false premises about voter ID laws. Obama's field marshal in this campaign to split America apart and shore up his support is Attorney General Eric Holder.

As the nation's top law enforcement official, Holder is supposed to be beyond politics. But the Attorney General's office — from the pro-civil rights activism of Herbert Brownell, Jr. under Eisenhower to Janet Reno refusing to release documents during the Clinton impeachment — has frequently been influenced by politics.

It's Holder's apparent willingness to selectively enforce the law, and the silent approval of Obama, that is a problem. Holder and Obama took oaths of office to defend the Constitution and uphold the nation's laws. These oaths leave little room for the crass promotion of a political agenda.

Holder's July appearance before the NAACP's annual convention, however, was an embarrassment to intelligent and informed citizens. He blatantly misrepresented the intent, mechanics and reasons for new voter safeguards.

Holder said:

Under the proposed law, concealed handgun licenses would be acceptable forms of photo ID, but student IDs would not. Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them, and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes... I will not allow that to happen.

In Holder's mind, apparently, only crazy right-wingers carry concealed weapons (he obviously wasn't at the Obama fundraisers to talk with celebrities such as Robert DeNiro and Marc Anthony about their permits). He undoubtedly sought to touch on the emotions of NAACP members more likely to believe in prayer over protecting themselves with a firearm.

But God helps those who help themselves. Consider the residents of Rosewood, Florida who chose to defend themselves against racist attacks in 1923.

In much the same way, the threat to our electoral process from identity theft is a clear and present danger. Something must be done to protect valid ballots from being spoiled by fraud. The easiest and most effective solution is having voters provide ID to prove they are who they say they are.

I have examined many of the 30 different state-level laws regarding voter ID. Unlike Texas', many of those laws accept school ID. But remember that not every student is necessarily a state resident, unlike a gun owner. I have both an Illinois-issued firearm owner's ID and a concealed weapon permit. The process of obtaining the latter involves an FBI background check, fingerprinting and photos. It's a much more thorough process than sending in a tuition check.

Another of Holder's voter ID complaints is that those without ID may have to travel long distances or pay fees they cannot afford. Has he not heard of the many states — such as Indiana, Pennsylvania and Georgia — offering free ID and sometimes even mobile services to issue ID? Also, in order for one to obtain Social Security, SSI, Medicare, Medicaid or other government-sponsored benefits through direct deposit, applicants must have some sort of valid ID.

In reality, it seems harder not to have obtained valid ID of some sort these days. But, to hear the arguments of voter ID critics, those without ID are helpless to get one. It's insulting.

Part of being an American citizen is personal responsibility. For example, when immigrants go through the naturalization process, they are taught about the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship. Along with voting, rights include passports for travel and federal aid and scholarships. Responsibilities include jury service, civic and electoral participation and respect for the Constitution and our laws.

That means getting an ID!

# # #

Charles Butler, is a member of the Project 21 black leadership network, a talk radio host in Chicago and the managing partner of Aricent LLC. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21, other Project 21 members, or the National Center for Public Policy Research, its board or staff.


Donate to the National Center for Public Policy Research

Donate | Subscribe | Search | What's New | Blog | Project 21 | National Center