This past Friday, I lost my wallet.
It happened at the most inopportune moment, as I was about to get on an Amtrak train to Washington. The prospect of traveling to the nation’s capital with no photo ID other than the hundreds of selfies in my phone was upsetting. This was particularly true since I was headed to the Italian Embassy, a place where armed guards stand in front of a mechanical iron gate. It was unlikely that the selfie of me eating a slice of Pica’s Pizza was sufficient to convince the authorities that I was authorized to enter.
In this instance I was fortunate enough to be traveling with a friend who vouched for my identity, including my Italian lineage, “Flowers” notwithstanding.
But I needed to recreate my life, in plastic. My credit cards were canceled, my vaccination history was retrieved from my medical provider, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania sent me a duplicate of my attorney’s license. From Friday to Monday morning, I couldn’t prove who I was. Had I dropped dead in DC, they could have created a new visitor site: the Tomb of the Unknown Civilian.
I joke about it now, but it scared me to be statistically invisible. My friends and family know who I am, the readers of this column know who I am, and Larry Krasner knows who I am since his supporters made every effort to stop me (and apparently only me) from voting in the last election. But beyond that, I could have had the carbon footprint of Shoeless Joe Jackson.
I have a license… It is what it is, and what it is is me.
You would think this would give me some empathy for the people who oppose voter ID. You would think, perhaps, that I’d understand how difficult it is to be denied an inherent right because you can’t convince strangers of your existence. You would be wrong. In fact, my experience this past weekend has only reinforced my belief that labeling the ID-to-vote a partisan game, rather than a legitimate concern, is wrong.
Our society is based upon laws. Some are petty and some are fundamental, some are outdated and some are necessary, some are legitimate and some are a pretext for denying people their inalienable rights. Into that latter group fall the ugly, dishonest Jim Crow laws that reeked of racism and existed to keep blacks from living a life of dignity. In some cases, they were designed to prevent free black Americans from their rights to life, liberty, and their own pursuit of happiness.
Knowing this, many on the Left have decided to use their righteous anger toward these racist laws to bootstrap their own attempts to win pluralities at the ballot box. Pointing fingers at those of us who think it’s important to establish the identity of the person who wants to check that box, these partisan actors have somehow managed to reframe voter ID legislation as something nefarious — something that their ancestors, the Dixiecrats, would have used to stop Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and John Lewis from casting their ballots.
As we approach the Pennsylvania primary on May 17th, and then the upcoming midterm elections, attempts to label Republican lawmakers as agents of racism and bigotry have ramped up. Voter ID is an easy target, they say, because it “burdens” the most vulnerable populations.
I’m still trying to figure out how that’s the case. I don’t drive (believe me, you do not want me out there on the roads), but I have a license, which provides me with a form of identification and the possibility of getting behind the wheel if absolutely necessary. It has my photo, taken on a day when no one should have been allowed in front of a camera. But it is what it is, and what it is is me.
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I saw many other people, from adolescents to the elderly, getting IDs at the Philadelphia DMV on North 8th Street. None of them seemed to have a problem coming up with the nominal fee, or one of the acceptable documents needed to prove their identity (ranging from a Social Security card to a birth certificate to a military ID to a passport to a bill to a…you get the idea).
The suggestion that there are people in this country who don’t have one of those things is something I find very hard to swallow, particularly in an age in which you need to prove your identity to buy a bottle of Nyquil. But even if there are people without the most minimal indicia of their existential and circumstantial presence on this earth, they are in the vast, vast minority. We do not upend an entire society to cater to an infinitesimally small group of people, do not or cannot make the effort to be a full part of this society.
Some of you may think the right to vote is what the founders called “inalienable,” but that’s not actually the case. It is a privilege that derives from citizenship: the most sacred one, in fact. You are not born with the “right” to vote. There are limitations that can be placed upon it. Anyone eighteen and under, or who has a green card, already knows that.
So why in the world would we criticize folks who simply want to make sure that those who seek to exercise that privilege are entitled to do so? What motive could they have? Don’t answer — I think I already know. When the Board of Elections in Philadelphia questioned my own right to vote, based upon a complaint from someone who read my anti-Krasner columns in this publication, it became quite clear to me why voter suppression is “a thing.”
But demanding ID is not “suppression,” nor is it racist, sexist, classist, or any of the other things it’s been called.
Not demanding ID cheapens the most precious attribute of being American.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61