Before Wyoming moves forward with answers to voter identification, let's ask a question: What's the problem?
Wyoming is not so unlike many other states which have contemplated tightening up restrictions on voter identification. The concern is that potential loopholes in the voting law might make for easy exploitation at the polls.
A bill -- Senate File 134 -- would have required photo identification (presumably government issued) to vote in Wyoming.
The point is valid that you need more identification and verification to cash a check than to vote.
And we believe that's as it should be.
You don't necessarily have a right to cash a check, but adults should have the right to vote.
That's part of our concern about voter identification laws: The potential harm seems to greatly outweigh the potential for abuse.
More than that, though, we live in a state where voter fraud has never really been a factor. Where are the cases of voter fraud? Where do we believe it is happening?
Voter fraud is serious and voting illegally is in many states a felony, Wyoming included. In Wyoming, voter fraud could land a person in prison for up to five years, with a fine of $10,000. Few would take the risk just to cast a ballot for city council. With voter apathy already an issue, we doubt many are motivated to show up at the polls to commit a felony.
Voter fraud is also hard to imagine in a state where one political party, the Republicans, rule with such an overwhelming majority. Republicans in many cases don't need anymore votes, and Democrats can't get enough votes to make it close.
So what's the problem?
The genesis of this legislation seems to come from urban areas and states with more equal political distribution. Reports of shady politicking have led to reports of voter fraud. And yet try to track down cases of voter fraud in any meaningful number becomes more an exercise of urban legend and shadow boxing. It seems to be a fear more than a reality.
Meanwhile, what hangs in the balance is too precious. That is, potentially shutting out citizens from voting is too great of risk. Disenfranchising legitimate voters is a right for which there is no remedy. There are no "do over" elections. And there is no way to make up a lost vote.
We can think of plenty of reasons why a voter might not have photo ID, ranging from simple forgetfulness to not having a need for a government-issued card.
When we start putting more requirements on voting, we run two risks that seem to be unnecessary.
First, requiring identification or other means seems like a soft way of implementing a poll tax, a mechanism once used to keep minorities from voting. If we require certain documents from the government, there will be an expense in obtaining them. For some, even a nominal expense will be a barrier, and that's wrong. Nothing should separate a citizen from exercising the most American of rights -- the right to vote independently and without restriction.
Secondly, we must be careful any time we propose laws that would limit civic engagement. In editorials, we've lamented the apathy and lack of participation in government. We've heard those same arguments from politicians. So, why would we limit government participation which has its genesis in the polling place?
Senate File 134 was sent back to committee for more work. Concerns were raised from AARP and other groups about the effect the bill would have on older residents if it were to become law.
But many of AARP's concerns mirror ours. We don't believe these issues are limited to our older residents.
We don't believe the lawmakers have demonstrated the need for this problem. A cursory search of our archives spanning the last couple of elections didn't turn up any stories of voter fraud in Wyoming, and nothing that made a material difference in a race.
So why bother?