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Opinion: Voting in America is a Privilege, Not a Right

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Walk into any grocery store and put a six-pack of beer at the cash register. Chances are, the clerk will ask to see your identification.

Suffering from allergies as I am this spring? A trip to the pharmacy will require you to produce government-issued ID before purchasing certain allergy medication.

Heading to Eric Holder's Department of Justice to meet with an official about anything? Your ID will be taken and reviewed to prove you are who you say you are.

And yet, with increasing frequency and intensity, Democratic lawmakers, civic activists and many in the mainstream media criticize efforts to require voters to produce photo identification before they have the privilege to cast a ballot in a state or federal election.

My use of the word privilege here is intentional—the right to vote is something that can be taken away. Opponents of voter ID requirements claim something far more disturbing and sinister: this is nothing more than a Republican effort to take away the ability for minorities and the poor to cast their ballot. A poll tax, some say. A return to Jim Crow, say others.

It disturbs me greatly that some fifty years after Dr. Martin Luther King helped ensure equal protection for blacks, actions taken to preserve the integrity of the ballot box are equated to the bigotry and hatred that we have largely overcome in decades past. Further still, the notion that blacks are unable to obtain ID or will feel intimidated in doing so only perpetuates a stereotype that blacks are inferior—the same notion that advocates of Jim Crow believed then and now. Why would so-called civil rights leaders play into this disturbing narrative?

Identification is a fact of ordinary American life in the 21st Century. A few years back, the Supreme Court held that Indiana’s stipulation to produce ID prior to voting did not discriminate against any particular individual and that doing so was reasonable to protect the ballot box. So long as efforts are taken to ensure such identification is provided to citizens free of charge and that the process is not overly burdensome, I see no problem with a state imposing this minimal but necessary step.

At its core, this issue has little to do with Democratic fears of Republicans seeking to marginalize the rights of the poor and minorities to vote. Instead, this has more to do with a demoralized Democratic base—demoralized as the candidate of Hope and Change has emerged as a polarizing and unpopular president.

A quick way to fire up the base and change the subject from the President’s record? Play a race card from the deck of political manipulation.

This is cynical, destructive politics at its worst. And a final item to consider: perhaps there is an ulterior motive for Democrats stymying efforts to produce identification in order to vote. Perhaps they need those who aren’t legally eligible to vote to do so.  That sounds more plausible to me than the trumped-up charges that some people, mostly Republicans, favor a return to the dark days of the segregated South.