Now that a Republican judge has poked the bear, it's time for a frank discussion about voter-ID cards.
Sure, the U.S. Constitution grants U.S. citizens the right to vote, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act says that right cannot be denied "on account of race or color." It also spells out other protections for nonwhites. And it's certainly sad commentary that in 2012 we still need pokers to ensure that voters of various constituencies are protected classes.
Yet, here we are, forming coalitions and mustering offenses and defenses to battle over a honey pot: how to defend constitutional protections, deter voter fraud and detect violators and violations at the polls.
Activist James O'Keefe proved how easily it would have been to pass himself off as U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. at the polls during the D.C. primaries in April.
This is not the time for me to debate whether voter-ID laws are necessary or even constitutional. However, last week's ruling by a Pennsylvania judge to uphold that state's voter-ID law prods us to consider why some people need some form of government-issued photo identification in the first place.
I'm just a meat-and-potatoes gal, so it seems the most fundamental reasons are because we sometimes need to prove to authorities not only who we are, but who we are not.
There's also the criminal element to consider. The Federal Trade Commission estimates as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. The commission says the problem is so acute that "you or someone you know may have experienced some form of identity theft."
There's another reality, too. The economy pushed a lot Americans down a flight of stairs, and just to steel themselves with their own two feet, many are applying for entitlements like food stamps. In the meantime, vulnerable populations like the elderly, severely disabled, rural poor and chronic substance abusers are unable to stand on their own.
Well, those are the very folks who really need those photo IDs to receive aid and to be identified when they are unable to speak for themselves.
But how do they do that when they "live" on the National Mall with dead presidents, reside on a rural route, or cannot stay clean and sober long enough to even remember that "Bubba" isn't their real name?
Recently, I sat for hours and hours in the waiting area of an organization that provides treatment for mentally impaired people. A few of those in need understood where they were, and some appreciated why they were there. Many, however, could not prove who they were.
By the grace of God, the red tape began unraveling for all of them.
I'm certain, as you probably are, that such scenarios play out everywhere in America, where a birth certificate is no longer sufficient identification and a Social Security card merely refers to you as person 123-45-6789.
Neither ID is accompanied with a photo. It's the same when it comes to voter-registration cards.
And if you're an undocumented alien, you cannot prove who you are not, so don't get angry if your identity is mistaken for someone else's, and you are deported "home."
We should take note that the voter photo ID bear has been poked, but beware.
Before we start jumping on and off the voter-ID bandwagon, we need to check out our state laws about driver's licenses, non-driver's IDs and identification requirements for public education.
Keep your eyes not just on the pokers, but on what's being poked.
• Debbie Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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