Irreparable harm?

Let's not go overboard, y'all

Is there a voter-ID law in Arkansas or isn't there? The answer might depend on which day you ask the question. One day a judge (as in, say, the Hon. Tim Fox) rules the state's voter-identification law unconstitutional, but considerately stays his ruling for the coming election. Then the state's Supreme Court weighs in, throwing out said ruling--or maybe only a portion of it. The head spins.

Let's just say that right now, as of press time, the state has a voter-ID law. We think. And so, Dear Voter, you must show a valid driver's license or some other bonafide identification at your polling place before casting a ballot. As many of us did Tuesday morning.

It's not a hard thing to do, despite all the overheated rhetoric coming from the more excitable quarters of the commentariat out there. Every time we write a check at the grocery store, the clerk asks for identification. And we're glad to give it. Because that simple act of verification can protect us from some lowlife who's trying to write checks on our account. So . . . shouldn't the right to vote in this country--a serious duty, privilege and responsibility--be as well protected as, say, buying a can of mushroom soup and some rice?

Note that when His Honor Tim Fox ruled against the state's still new ID law, he said the law could cause, ahem, irreparable harm if a person was denied the right to vote. Irreparable Harm seems to be lawyerspeak for an inconvenience that can be set right. The way it was in the case of a prominent politician--who won't be named here, but whose initials are Asa Hutchinson. When he got to the polls last week, he didn't have his driver's license.

So . . . he had to get it. And then he showed it, got a ballot, and voted.

Big deal.

Call it a reparable harm.

But what if it's not that easy? The law still allows someone to cast a provisional vote and show identification later. The oft-used (and abused) example of some poor factory worker's being disenfranchised because he left his wallet at work on his lunch hour never did make much sense. Not when you actually read the law.

But the whole, fluid issue is still in flux in Arkansas. If our judges haven't yet thoroughly confused all the county clerks, poll workers and long-suffering voters in this state, they just might tomorrow. Stay tuned, watch the papers, and En Garde!

Speaking of which . . . .

Did you see the story about the four Carroll County precincts in which the number of votes cast last Tuesday at first didn't match the number of people who'd signed in? The county's election commission audited the votes and totals, and it turned out to be a simple mistake. Another reparable harm.

But also try to remember, next time you hear about how much trouble it is to protect the integrity of the ballot here in Arkansas, the case of a now happily former state representative from Crittenden County, Ark.--one Hudson Hallum. Not that long ago, back in 2012, Mr. Hallum had to resign his seat in the state House of Representatives after pleading guilty to election fraud.

Election fraud does still happen. Taking steps against it isn't a search for a non-existent problem. And it isn't an attempt to keep any legal voter from casting a ballot. It's safeguarding democracy. Because if the integrity of the ballot is jeopardized, so is the whole system of democratic self-government. Now that would be irreparable harm.

The next time you come across one of the more apoplectic types who try to tell you that America just wouldn't be America if we had voter identification laws, just recite to yourself:

The Netherlands, France, Ireland, Germany . . . .

The next time somebody makes the argument that voter identification laws amount to suppressing the vote and a nefarious plot to keep the poor, ordinary workers or some racial or ethnic minority from voting . . . .

Brazil, Greece, Belgium . . . .

And so democratically on. Ask yourself why so many of the world's democracies have their own voter-ID laws, and why those countries insist that only legal ballots be cast in their elections. And ask why the United States of America, including one called Arkansas, should be any less vigilant when it comes to protecting the integrity of our elections.

Editorial on 05/25/2014