Today I printed off an absentee ballot application from my state government site for all things wonderfully public. I went to a lot of trouble to ensure I’d be able to cast a vote this year and I didn’t want to leave anything to chance.
First of all, I had to renew my driver’s license this past July. No big deal, right? Normally, it wouldn’t have been. But, it’s been a long time since my life’s been normal so of course, renewing my driver’s license was befit with all the possible Sturm and Drang I could manufacture.
Some time ago I gave up driving due to faltering eyesight, so when the renewal notice came in the mail I didn’t give it much thought until I remembered I needed a photo ID in order to vote. Ahhhhh, crap. I put the deed off as long as I could then finally one day took a deep breath and showed up at the local Secretary of State’s office.
I figured I might as well pretend I was normal to see how much I could get away with before having to confess I was sorta not good at seeing stuff anymore. So, I planted my face in this visor thingie like the clerk instructed me to and tried to read the line of letters glowing from its depths.
I couldn’t read it.
Even though I knew the condition of my eyesight, I was surprisingly shocked that I couldn’t decipher even one letter! I was that bad off?
“I can’t read it,” I said to the clerk and backed away from the scope, “It doesn’t matter, really, because I’ve voluntarily taken myself from behind the driver’s wheel but I guess I’ll need to apply for a non-license photo ID so I can vote.”
“You can do that here,” the clerk assured me, “You’ll have to bring in a certified copy of your birth certificate, your official Social Security card, and an official piece of mail, like an electric bill addressed to you and showing your correct and current address.”
It registered with me that she was dead serious. There I was standing in front of her, in person, with my old pictured driver’s license, the renewal form that had been mailed to me at my current address — I even had my Social Security card on me — and still I had to make a 50 mile round trip home to fetch my birth certificate — if I could even find the damn thing — and an electric bill to prove who I was all in order to exercise my right to vote.
The perplexity must have shown on my face. And I’m absolutely positive the clerk knew exactly how absurd the whole thing was but what could she do? She was bound by the rules of her job.
“You know,” she began quietly, “You can always use the wall chart to take the vision test instead.” She pointed to the back wall and there in all its ancient glory was an old fashioned eye chart hanging among the public service posters and other junk nobody ever reads. “What’s the smallest line you can see clearly?” she asked.
“Big giant E”, I said.
I paid my $18 renewal fee and a minute later I was on the sidewalk, officially sanctioned by an agent of the Secretary of State as Michigan’s newest road hazard. Plus, I could vote!
For me, this had a happy ending. But, when I let the episode sink in, I realized that there are a good number of non-drivers who will not be able to vote, even though they would like to, because they are unable to produce all the documentation required. They might be able to come up with some kind of verifying letter from Social Security, but for some, a birth certificate was never issued.
My last living auntie, 91, was born at home up here in the wilderness and was never issued an official birth certificate. “And yet, here I am,” she says happily, “What are they gonna do about that?” Decades ago, somehow she satisfied all the requirements and has always been dutiful about exercising her right to vote.
But, these days, they are making it so tough on some folks who do not have the wherewithal to exercise that right. Lately I have taken the view that this type of voter disenfranchisement is a slap at those who are living in poverty. Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you’re stupid and a lot of people living below the poverty line are educated and aware of what goes on in the world and are very interested in contributing their vote.
It was out of their power to choose how and where they were born and if a clerk was handy to note the event or not.
A person’s financial circumstance should not dictate their eligibility to vote.
Most people do have an official certificate of birth – somewhere. If they don’t have a certified copy with the raised seal and all that folderol on hand, one can be ordered from the registrar’s office of the county they were born in. (If they even know the county they were born in.) The fee to produce this document varies from office to office and of course each state has its own procedural rules. I know for me, the fee for a certified copy of birth is $35 dollars. I checked.
As for a pictured ID that is now required at the voting booth in many states, whether it is a driver’s license or the other, the cost is anywhere from free to $25. Free if you’re over 65 or blind; cash money if you ain’t. (In Michigan, my Michigan.)
So, even if you have a straightforward path to gathering your documentation in order to be allowed to vote, it could easily cost $60 for the privilege.
Yeah, I know — $60 doesn’t sound like all that much. But, when you’re poor, it’s a lot. Everything is relative.
I understand there are groups being formed all over the country taking up this cause by trying to identify the eligible voters who need assistance with their documentation, raising the money to acquire the documentation, and helping to pave the way for these folks to cast their votes. More power to ‘em.
What irritates me the most, however, is the idea that so much hoop jumping has to go on just to vote. It shouldn’t be that complicated. It shouldn’t cost a dime. Not that it should be exactly easy, but it shouldn’t be frustrating. It shouldn’t make people decide to give up so quickly, shrug their shoulders and walk away in defeat.
Oh, and I don’t want to hear about all the battles that went on to get the right to vote for Women or Blacks or Indians or 18 year olds and how we should never forget or take for granted and blah, blah, blah. That’s not the point. The point is…
I want to vote!
I’m gonna go fill out that absentee voter application now and mail it to the township clerk. That’s me – always scouting out fresh hells to explore. I figure if I start early enough I’ll have plenty of time to fix the screw up I’ll most likely make on my first attempt. Plan ahead I always say!