1. Opinion

Trip to my polling place shows barriers at work

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Published Aug. 22, 2012

I am what they call a super voter, meaning I almost always vote. I am also an African-American conservative. And, as a longtime Tallahassee-based lobbyist, I get to see the Legislature up close from a front-row seat. Like many, I assumed that the efforts to purge voters did not relate to me. I was wrong.

My eyes are now fully open, and what they have seen is not pretty. A disturbing thing happened to me while voting on Aug. 14 in the Florida primary. That evening, my wife and I went in to vote together, just as we usually do. We both had our voter ID cards. I asked my wife to go in front of me. She showed the poll worker at the table her voter ID card and her driver's license. She was asked to sign her name by her printed name on the voting roll and was given a ballot.

Then it was my turn. I walked up and showed the poll worker my voter ID card. The women asked for my driver's license. I then patted myself down and realized that in my rush, I brought nothing in but the voter ID, freshly taken from the envelope received from the supervisor of Elections office. I did not even know if I had a driver's license or picture ID with me in the car.

I pointed out to the lady that the voter before me was my wife. I pointed to her name and our corresponding address on the voting roll and suggested to the poll worker that my wife could vouch for me and that it should be clear that I am who I say I am. I explained that I had a car full of kids who were anxious to get to a church youth event. She said, sorry, you have to have a photo ID to vote. Then after pausing and looking into her eyes, I understood that the ridiculousness of the situation was not at all lost on her. After all, she was simply following the rules.

I sprinted to our car hoping that I had a photo ID there. Luckily, it was there, and she kindly waved me ahead of the line. Once there, she reviewed the ID and allowed me to sign by my name on the voting rolls. She then gave me a ballot. I came within a hair of not being able to vote.

Many things have crossed my mind since then. For example, how many people would walk into a polling place with their voter ID cards, husband and wife while attempting to fraudulently vote? Probably none.

It also occurred to me that the people this will largely affect are African-Americans, Hispanics, some elderly and the poor. It will affect African-Americans disproportionately because a casual perusing of your local county jails and arrest reports will show that there are a very high amount of African-Americans arrested daily for driving with a suspended or revoked driver's license, which are usually revoked because they could not afford to pay a traffic ticket or to keep car insurance — making it a crime of poverty.

Many elderly people in Florida do not drive anymore and have no need for a state-issued driver's license and little need for an ID at all. Then there are the barriers to getting a state ID. One has to be transported to a state driver's license office, show a birth certificate (if you can find yours) and a Social Security card (if you can find yours). If the person seeking the ID doesn't have certain documentation, it could take weeks, especially for those who were born out of state. Not to mention the cost.

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Before you write me off as a crackpot, please consider that any honest political consultant would tell you that they expect most blacks, Hispanics and, arguably, the elderly to vote a certain way.

So, by erecting barriers like demanding government-issued IDs, the rules are suppressing the turnout of likely voting blocs. And, as an African-American conservative, it concerns me that these laws are being passed in states where the GOP holds most political power. It veers far from the party of Lincoln.

Michael Dobson is a longtime Tallahassee-based lobbyist, columnist, political consultant and managing member of Dobson, Craig and Associates.