Couple of interesting conversations over the last little while regarding the issue of requiring proof of citizenship in order to cast a vote in a State or Federal election.
When I immigrated to the US about 16 years ago, there were many requirements. Besides the avalanche of documentation that was required (and boy, you better fill it out right the first time, or it's square one all over again), there were also a raft of medical tests that had to be performed. For a family of five, this translated to a few thousand dollars. The "socialized" medical environment where I was didn't pay for tests on people who were planning on leaving. These seems odd, and even over the top to us at the time. But it was what had to be done in order to gain entrance into the country.
So long story short, we got it all done, and were admitted to the country at the end of January, 1991. Only a few days later, the borders of the country were temporarily closed because of the Gulf War Fuster-Cluck I. We considered ourselves lucky to be here.
When we got settled in a rented place, we found out that if things like utility companies and banks have no idea who you are, or you have no recorded history whatsoever, you would have to put large deposits down for everything you want, like phone service. It was as if we had just appeared on the face of the earth from some other planet. We used the pay phone across the street at the Holiday station for a long time.
But we were lucky to be here. We had spent a lot of money to get here, and we were happy to be here. After about four years, we were able to buy a house. We had established ourselves within the framework of the machinations of the country's customs and procedures.
I'm still a "Permanent Resident Alien" complete with the requisite card. I'm required to have this card on my person at all times. It sits behind my driver's license in my wallet.
Why do I tell this story? Because of this: there is a movement that is opposing the idea that people should have to prove "eligibility to vote" in order to be able to do so. The thought here is that people should be able to show some sort of a picture ID, along with proof of citizenship to be able to vote.
They say that in order to do this, a person should have to provide proof of citizenship at an agency before the vote, to obtain a card that shows a picture and proof, from an agency contracted to provide such. They want to make the card free to get. But detractors are saying that although this ID card would be free, it would not be free to qualify to get it - you have to have a birth certificate, marriage licenses (if your name has changed), Social security card, etc. These things are hard and expensive to acquire if you don't have them, to the tune of maybe a couple hundred dollars. Detractors are calling the movement a "poll-tax" which is unconstitutional (it's not a poll tax, and most reasonable people realize this - it's just a good inflammatory way to get press time.)
The number of people who don't register to vote is roughly the same as the number of illiterate people in the country. That's not to say that they are the same people, but some are drawing that inference. Detractors say that requirement to show proof of citizenship is a hardship and a burden on these people. Generally, they are right. Should the US then not require adequate proof of citizenship then? Hardly. Instead, government programs should be overhauled and brought into the 20th century. There needs to be a clearing house of information that is readily available, accurate, and timely, so legal people can prove who they are within a reasonable time, and with minimal or no cost to them.
Simply dropping the measure is not the answer, better government record oversight is the answer. We need to demand more of our nation's governmental programs. The fiasco that was financial aid for victims of hurricane Katrina should have brought this into stark focus for us all. There were MANY cases of people getting money (and a lot of it) who were nowhere NEAR New Orleans at the time, and many more cases where the money was used for things like football season tickets, tropical vacations, etc.
Face it, by and large, most of the country's services to its citizens are a shadow of what they should be. In a country where employee productivity is the highest in the world, our government is clogged with deadwood, pork spending, ineptitude, and no oversight whatsoever.
This needs to change.
(and in case you're wondering - my oldest kid has applied for and received his citizenship, and my papers are filled out and sitting on the kitchen table, waiting for me to send them in. I don't imagine it'll get done in time for me to vote this fall, but I expect to be able to vote in the next presidential election.)