by Christopher Paslay
A recent column by Annette John-Hall can serve as a valuable teaching tool on propaganda, voter integrity, and the soft bigotry of low expectations.
This coming week I have decided to use Inquirer columnist Annette John-Hall’s article “A retired CEO can’t top voter ID hurdles” as part of my lesson on persuasive writing in my 10th grade English class. Below are three issues we will cover, including questions for class discussions.
Voter ID and the Integrity of Our Electoral System
In September of 2005, the Commission on Federal Election Reform, co-chaired by former president Jimmy Carter, issued a report titled “Building Confidence in U.S. Elections.” In order to prevent voter fraud and rebuild American confidence in our electoral system, the commission made five recommendations, one of which was to require voters to show ID to vote:
To make sure that a person arriving at a polling site is the same one who is named on the list, we propose a uniform system of voter identification based on the “REAL ID card” or an equivalent for people without a drivers license. To prevent the ID from being a barrier to voting, we recommend that states use the registration and ID process to enfranchise more voters than ever.
The Supreme Court of the United States agreed. In 2008, the court upheld Indiana’s photo ID requirement, ruling that it was a non-discriminatory means of protecting the integrity of elections.
Despite the opinions of Jimmy Carter and the U.S. Supreme Court, Annette John-Hall insists calling for voter ID “is really just a political dirty trick [by Republicans] to enact one of the harshest laws in the nation, intended to suppress votes under the guise of combating fraud that doesn’t exist.”
According to a story in USA Today by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, however, voter fraud does exist:
In Texas, evidence of voter fraud abounds. In recent years, my office has secured more than 50 voter fraud convictions. Those include a woman who voted in place of her dead mother, a political operative who cast ballots for two people, and a city council member who registered foreign nationals to vote in an election decided by 19 votes. Voter fraud is hard to detect, so cases like these are just the tip of the iceberg.
Still, supporters of voter ID laws insist that one case of voter fraud is all it takes to spoil the integrity of our electoral system and justify voter ID laws.
Discussion Questions: Are voter ID laws needed to protect the integrity of our electoral system? Is one case of voter fraud enough to justify these laws? Why or why not?
The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations
“Some say it is unfair to hold disadvantaged children to rigorous standards. I say it is discrimination to require anything less–the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
These were the words of George W. Bush in a 1999 speech on improving education. The same can be said of voter ID laws and the need to educate Americans on the importance of voting and acquiring the proper ID to do so. Helping the poor and disenfranchised get an ID is much broader than simply voting; it is giving them the documentation necessary to both navigate and participate in 21st century society.
Currently, a valid ID is needed to cash a check, apply for working papers, apply for a marriage license, apply for a mortgage, fly on a plane, get a credit card, buy a car, rent a car, rent an apartment, rent a post office box, buy alcohol, cigarettes, a gun, take out student loans, take out home equity loans, leave the country, get back into the country, get car insurance, get life insurance, get home owners insurance, etc. One would think those interested in empowering the poor and disenfranchised–those interested in helping struggling people better their lives–would do everything they could to help those in need secure a valid ID.
Interestingly, people like Annette John-Hall rail against voter ID and all its transformative benefits like the plague. Instead of pouring their energy into getting the needy up to speed, they spend their time trumpeting to the world and all who will listen why the poor (and the young, and the old, and students, and minorities) CAN’T comply. Can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t. No way. Impossible. Just too hard. Too daunting. They engage in laborious studies on why a minute group of Americans can’t overcome basic challenges, like the Brennan Center for Justice’s report “The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification.” How much money was spent on this report, and more importantly, how many thousands of IDs could have been acquired and given to indigent Americans in its place?
The Brennan Center claims the ID laws are “restrictive.” John-Hall calls the ID laws “suppressive.” Others, like the Inquirer, compare the laws to Jim Crow and insist they amount to the equivalent of a “poll tax.”
Why? Here are the three best arguments against voter ID laws to date, as concluded by the Brennan Center: state ID-issuing offices have limited hours, long lines, and in some cases, require the use of public transportation. This is what people like John-Hall call “Jim Crow.” Those minority of Americans (less than 11 percent of the population) who want to vote and don’t have an ID have to take a bus, wait in a line, and coordinate both of these activities to fit into a time when the ID-issuing office is actually open for business.
Most Americans (75 percent) support voter ID laws and believe it is by no means unrealistic (or discriminatory) to expect Americans to be able to perform these aforementioned tasks. Many will argue that assuming citizens are unable or unfit to do so is condescending, counterproductive, and a hindrance to their well being and growth; some will argue that such low expectations are the true source of voter suppression.
Discussion Questions: How might Annette John-Hall’s low expectations of the poor and disenfranchised influence their ability to vote? How might these low expectation hurt society as a whole? Does John-Hall have any underlying political motives or agenda for opposing voter ID laws and voter education?
Dishonest Journalism and the Use of Propaganda
In her article “A retired CEO can’t top voter ID hurdles,” Annette John-Hall uses a propaganda technique known as a “red herring” to convince the public that voter ID laws are harsh and suppressive. Her article tells the story of Anthony DeCarlo, a 72-year old life long voter and recently retired CEO of a billion dollar company. DeCarlo was recently (and mistakenly) alerted by the Commonwealth of PA that the name on his driver’s license (Anthony DeCarlo) didn’t match the name on the voter rolls (Anthony J. DeCarlo) and that “he might have a problem.”
Well, as it turns out (as it is revealed near the end of John-Hall’s article), DeCarlo didn’t have a problem; his ID is fine, his voter registration card is fine, and he will be able to vote in November, just like he’s done for the last 50 years. So why is John-Hall’s article headlined “A retired CEO can’t top voter ID hurdles”? Doesn’t not being able to “top voter ID hurdles” mean not being able to vote?
No, it doesn’t. This is the convoluted and misleading game played by John-Hall and her editors–a propaganda technique known as a “red herring.” The voter ID hurdles DeCarlo wasn’t able to clear involved going down to a DMV office and dealing with a “bureaucratic shuffle,” receiving a bit of frustrating misinformation from a clerk that was later rectified; if people like John-Hall simply cooperated with voter ID laws and voter education instead of railing against it, perhaps DeCarlo may have known that, according to votespa.com, “photo IDs do not need to exactly match their voter registration, but the names must substantially conform.” DeCarlo may have also known that as a senior citizen, he could have simply cast an absentee ballot.
But to those busy readers who only happened to skim John-Hall’s headline (or only read the intro to the piece), one would think DeCarlo had his right to vote “suppressed.” Of course, nothing of the sort happened.
In PA, the state has spent millions on voter education and has set up a website to assist anyone interested in voting to acquire an ID (in many cases free of charge), register, and get to their polling place to vote. Even if a person doesn’t have a photo ID, or they are indigent and unable to obtain one without payment of a fee, they can cast a provisional ballot and will have six days to provide their photo ID and/or an affirmation to their county elections office to have their ballot count. Senior citizens, the disabled, and others unable to get to their polling place can cast an absentee ballot.
Discussion Questions: Is Annette John-Hall’s article propaganda? Is her use of a red herring dishonest journalism? How might this misleading information harm the public’s trust of voter ID laws and negatively impact the integrity of newspapers?