Our precious right to vote

Our precious right to vote

October 2nd, 2011 in Opinion Free Press

You may recall how terrorists attacked polling places in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years when the people of those nations were finally able to vote for leaders of their choosing -- after decades of rigged or nonexistent elections.

Yet despite the terrorist threat, millions of Afghans and Iraqis courageously went to the polls to cast their ballots and have a say in their government.

Their determination to exercise the right to vote in the face of real danger should cause us Americans to appreciate how easy it is to vote in our free country.

Rarely do we face any "danger" greater than, perhaps, some bad weather when we show up at polling places to make our choices among the candidates seeking public office. We also have options such as early voting if we cannot vote on Election Day itself.

So it is unfortunate that there has been a good deal of grumbling about a new requirement in Tennessee that voters present valid photo identification to cast ballots. In some cases, it can take a few hours to get a driver's license at one of the scores of driver service centers around the state, critics of the new law say. And some other -- minor -- bureaucratic hassles have surfaced as Tennesseans who do not already have the required ID seek to obtain it.

But considering the importance of our wonderful voting rights, those inconveniences pale by comparison.

It's obviously desirable for voting to be reasonably convenient -- and for no undue roadblocks to be put in the way of those who are legitimately trying to vote.

But the key word there is "undue."

The purpose of requiring photo ID in Tennessee is to prevent voter fraud. And unfortunately, there have been serious cases of fraud in the state.

Results of a 2006 state Senate election in Memphis were so awash in fraud that they had to be thrown out. Disgustingly, the supposed "voters" in Memphis included a number of dead people.

The state has found hundreds of ineligible felons casting ballots as well. And it is impossible to know how many people may have shown up over the years when photo ID wasn't required and cast fraudulent ballots.

That sort of activity undermines honest voters' confidence in our election system and unfairly dilutes their votes.

Efforts are being undertaken to ensure that legitimate voters are not unreasonably burdened by the photo ID rule. For example, voters may obtain the appropriate ID free of charge around the state. Those efforts should continue -- and should even be expanded if that eventually proves necessary.

But protecting the integrity of elections is a vital public interest, and it overwhelmingly justifies the slight inconvenience of obtaining a valid photo ID to present at the ballot box.