Proof of Citizenship


Richard W. Crockett



On the face of it, a requirement that a voter be asked to show proof of citizenship in order to vote does not seem unreasonable.  The United States Supreme Court has just upheld an Indiana measure requiring such proof including voter IDs.  Missouri and 18 other states also are pushing legislation, which would require stricter proof of citizenship. The Missouri legislation is sponsored by Stanley Cox, a Republican state Representative from Sedalia.  On practical grounds, it matters whether proof is required at the time of registration or at the time of voting.  At the time of registration, a voter might be reasonably expected to have time to round up required documents proving citizenship, documents such as birth certificates, naturalization papers, passports which clearly prove citizenship.  But to ask for proof of citizenship on Election Day at the polling place beyond a voter registration card would seem to be a case of malevolent intentions lurking within the appearance of a reasonable request.  The possibility for denying voters their right to vote on election day, only to be sorted out and shown to be a mistaken denial of our most precious right long after the election is over, is the means by which close elections can be overturned and the will of the people thwarted. 


An important question is, “Who potentially can be denied their right to vote through the pernicious enforcement of such laws?”  Any of us could be.  While a case can be made that this is part of the recent Republican and conservative campaign against Hispanic people, generally, and Mexicans in particular, because Hispanics tend to vote Democratic, anyone can be can be caught in this insidious net.  The New York Times and other news outlets reported that in the Indiana primary last week, “several nuns were denied ballots because they lacked the required photo IDs,” this on the day of the primary.  Can a photo ID problem be fixed on the day of the election and leave time to get to the polling place and permit the casting of a vote?  By the way, do most voters have their passports up to date (or even have one?), their birth certificate handy, or their naturalization papers close at hand? If challenges occur at the polling place, rather than at the time of registration, any person can be challenged, delayed and ultimately denied the vote.  Imagine a scenario where partisan officials alternately challenge each other’s potential voters.  This is potentially not just about persons illegally coming across the border from Mexico and voting in our election, but about anyone who thinks he has a right to vote.   Not a happy state of affairs.


The whole effort to impose more rigorous standards on voter registration and voting is driven more by anti-immigration sentiment than anything else, and has largely, but not exclusively, been pushed by Republicans.  “ America admitted more legal immigrants from 1991 to 2000 (between 10-11 million) than in any previous decade,” according to Wikipedia. (Italics mine) Beyond that in 2008 there are an estimated 12-20 million illegal immigrants in the Uniteds States. Republicans have often led opposition to the expansion of numbers of voters, especially when new entrants to the voter rolls may be inclined to vote Democratic. I am sure the wish is that many legal Hispanics will be caught up in the net fishing for ineligible potential voters.  The denial of these potentially legal voters their right to vote would help the Republican cause.    Some in Republican ranks argue that we have a republic and not a democracy.  Perhaps these efforts are a sample of what they mean by that.  Former Republican Senator from Maine and former Secretary of Defense in the Clinton Administration, William Cohen, son of a Russian-Jewish immigrant father and whose wife is African American thinks the whole enterprise of playing the race card in any manner is extremely short sighted for the Republicans.  Many groups who have been slighted by the processes of politics have aligned with a different party and remained loyal to that new party for generations to come.  A case in point is that since the 1928 candidacy of the Catholic, Al Smith, and the 1932 election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, African Americans as a group are more likely to support the Democrats than the Republicans, even though it was Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, whose name is associated with the emancipation proclamation freeing the slaves. The Hispanics are here to stay, and we would all feel the costs to the economy of kicking them out, especially the Republican oriented business community.  We all had better learn to treat immigrants fairly, and this includes avoiding all nativist or racist driven legislation.  With some of it we could be hoisted on our own petard.