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Voting Rights and Wrongs

Your humble columnist has not always had his registration or identification in voting order.

After discussing the matter at some length with both my wife and my confessor, I have decided that it is finally time for me to speak about a series of traumatic incidents from my past. My decision to speak forthrightly was not made lightly. Even now I find myself hesitating. But to remain silent, at this juncture, while the fate of our democracy hangs in the balance, would be inexcusable.

In 2012, I made a last-minute attempt to vote in the presidential election, mostly because I had opinions about the ballot initiative that would eventually legalize so-called “medical cannabis” in the state of Michigan. When I arrived at what I thought was my designated polling place, I was turned away at the door. According to the designated election watchers, a pair of gray-haired lady librarian Democrats of a kind that is now vanishingly rare, I was not registered in that ward. Moreover, they said, my driver’s license was expired. They simply could not allow me to cast even a provisional ballot.

This grotesque violation of my civil rights would find its sequel years later, when, after a half-decade sojourn in Washington, D.C., I returned to the greatest state in the union. Here the clerk at the secretary of state office who gave me a new Michigan driver’s license after I paid multiple outstanding speeding tickets by phone did not ask me whether I wished to register to vote, even though she had done the same thing for my wife a few weeks earlier. This meant that a few years later when I tried to slip away from work for a few minutes to vote for Tulsi Gabbard in the 2016 Michigan Democratic Primary, I was once again denied my “voting rights.”

I wish I could say that I was joking about all of the above, but I am solemnly assured by Democratic politicians, including our president during his recent trip to Georgia, that both of these seemingly anodyne incidents were not the consequences of my own laziness (and low-grade criminality) but privations worthy of Jim Crow. To insist that a person wishing to take part in a presidential election vote at the correct location, with valid picture ID, is tantamount to a denial of the franchise itself.

This, I take it, is why Kyrsten Sinema, apparently the second openly LGBTQIA+ woman elected to the United States Senate and the former co-host of a 9/11 truther radio program, is now a hate figure in progressive circles. Sinema, you see, has discovered that sitting on the threshold between the two parties is an enviable position in an evenly divided upper chamber. As I write this, Sinema is being threatened with primary challenges and the withdrawal of a considerable portion of her donor support because she does not support eliminating the filibuster—don’t ask me what that means—to pass what mainstream newspapers now uniformly refer to as “voting rights” legislation.

I am still not entirely sure what this phrase means. If the proposed legislation is any indication, “voting rights” means being able to request what we still quaintly refer to as “absentee” ballots months ahead of time, to be able to deposit these pieces of paper in virtually any location, to be able to register while standing in line on election day without a driver’s license (despite having somehow already had one’s mail-in ballot “harvested”), and goodness knows what else. By these standards, virtually no one in the history of this country enjoyed the exercise of his or her voting rights until last fall.

How in the world this maximalist understanding of voting rights is compatible with vaccine mandates (which also require photo ID, lest some wag borrow his friend’s CDC-issued piece of tissue paper) I could not say. Part of me wishes that a cynical Republican would suggest a new bipartisan deal that involves a nationwide vaccine mandate for voting. 

But what I really hate about all of these meta-conversations is the bad faith from both sides. By now it should be possible for intelligent adults to discuss the electoral calculus of our two major political parties, one of which benefits from lax voting requirements, the other of which seemingly—it is not entirely clear to me that they are right about this—profits from commonsensical restrictions.

Rather than enlist on the side of either party, I should be clear about my own views: It would be a merrier world if we did not vote at all, but barring that, I would not require identification for voting any more than I would for the purchase of alcoholic beverages or tobacco. I would also eliminate licenses for driving automobiles, which do not meaningfully increase the quality of drivers anyway. Until the world comes around to my view of things, however, I will continue to lament the onerous burdens imposed upon me last November, when I was forced to submit a provisional ballot despite three years of continuous—and exorbitant—property taxes.

Yours in the struggle.

Matthew Walther is editor of The Lamp and a contributing editor of The American Conservative.