Will you be able to prove your identity?

It’s November. Three years from this month we will be voting for a new president, but if Lee Hamilton has his way, we will have to first show the poll worker our machine-readable identification card with our smiling digital face.

In a recent visit to Indiana, former Congressman Lee Hamilton invited college students to attend a discussion of the Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform. Suffice to say, I was one of three young people interested in America’s voting process. I thought Hamilton would be thrilled to see me — a young, inquisitive mind prodding the legitimacy of the democratic process.

As I walked into the room where Hamilton would be speaking, I was informed by a mysterious administrative-type woman that I was welcome as a graduate student, but not as a NUVO reporter even though I had cleared this ahead of time with the sponsor of the event. No. Wait. Now she informed me that I was allowed to cover the first half hour as a reporter on “deep background” and then I was “welcome” to stay and listen as a student. This was at Hamilton’s request, she said.

Huh? I was beginning to feel like the voter who is registered in multiple states, sent to the wrong precinct and then warned about a “hanging chad.” I was confused.

Not only was I confused — I was shocked! Lee Hamilton has spent much of his political career fighting for transparency in our government and its decisions and for democracy around the world. This is a man who investigated covert arms transactions with Iran and led House ethics reforms on the integrity of Congress.

Hamilton was also a leading member of the 9/11 Commission and most recently has been a harsh critic of the Hurricane Katrina rescue operation. We might as well call him Lee “You Have To Answer To Me” Hamilton. Why was he shutting out the press, the government watchdog and democracy’s best friend?

What did Hamilton have to hide?

I can assure you he wasn’t trying to protect a Barack Obama gem that he was testing on a smaller audience as comedians often do. Hamilton also regurgitated Carter-Baker Commission Web site information with each word rolling off of his tongue like stymied drops of molasses.

What Hamilton might have been hiding from was a voice of dissent on the commission’s recommendation to require a REAL ID to vote in political elections.

REAL ID is essentially a machine-readable license that will function as a person’s main photo identification.

It must be presented to get you on a plane, open a bank account, receive any government service, etc. The process to obtain the ID will be stringent. REAL ID requires four documents that in whole must prove a person’s name, date of birth, Social Security number, principal residence and that they are lawfully in the United States. A birth certificate, passport or naturalization papers, a Social Security card and a license will be acceptable documents.

Everybody has a license, right? As so painfully displayed during Hurricane Katrina, we know this is not true. How likely is it that the poor, disabled, elderly and people of color have any of these documents, or the ability to obtain them?

Spencer Overton, a professor at George Washington University who specializes in election reform and who was also a member of the Carter-Baker Commission, recognizes the difficulties this group of people may face when attempting to get a REAL ID. According to his Web site, Overton believes that the commission is actually disenfranchising this group of people by requiring a REAL ID to vote.

The REAL ID Act was attached to military spending as an aid to the war on terror and tsunami relief, making it hard for any politician to vote against it. It will be implemented in May 2008. The commission’s recommendation that the REAL ID be required to vote is not part of the REAL ID Act and has not been put into law yet.

What has been put into law is Indiana’s requirement that you must have a government-issued photo ID to vote. The Voter ID bill, intended to prevent voting fraud, is the most restrictive voting law in the country and, according to Fran Quigley, head of the ICLU, an “onerous solution on the most vulnerable population of Indiana.” He lists the same population as Overton— the poor, elderly, disabled and people of color. But Quigley is talking about the current documents necessary to get an Indiana driver’s license, not the new REAL ID requirements. What will happen when the more difficult to obtain REAL ID replaces the driver’s license in Indiana?

Will REAL ID plummet already depressingly low voting statistics? The group to watch will be the elderly, the demographic that consistently has the highest voting rates.

Let us also keep an eye on the freedom of the press. If a beloved Democrat like Lee Hamilton is trying to control his message at a speech where the man to my left was falling asleep, then Bush’s PR strategies are starting to affect — better yet, infect — the press on every level.

Jennifer Dawson is currently an intern with NUVO.


Recommended for you