I Keep a Photo of Myself in my Wallet

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States in the country south of me are passing laws requiring photo identification to be presented at the polls. They say this is a reasonable measure to prevent the serious problem of voter fraud. Critics say it targets groups already disadvantaged, has (in some cases, explicitly stated) the core purpose of party gain, and is denying a fundamental right. And I agree with all of those.

A year ago I tried to get a passport. I had the right photos taken and the right form filled out properly, and my birth certificate and other supporting documentation. What I didn’t have, by the standards of the passport office, was valid photo ID. I don’t have, and have never had, a driver’s license. My proof-of-age ID for drinking purposes was being phased out and it was useless for anything but drinking up to January 1 2012. I needed to apply for the province’s replacement of that card, but that application also required valid photo ID.

There was one loophole that saved me, so I filled the application for that card. Proof that I filled that application was enough for the passport office (never actually seeing this ID they demanded!) and I had two valid government-issued photo IDs in the making to be delivered to my mailbox in coming weeks.

Hilarious irony #1: the passport, which came first oddly enough, was sent in parcel form and had to be picked up at the post office…with valid ID. The nice clerk there accepted my booze card.

Hilarious irony #2: in the midst of this setback there was an election. I had my registration card with name and address, but I did not yet have photo ID. Birth certificate, proof of residence, yes, but not a mugshot printed on fancy plastic. I worried about showing up at the polls and being sent back.

But I wasn’t.

The election worker took my card, read it to make sure I was at the right place, and told me where to write and drop my ballot. There was enough evidence that I was myself: the card was given to me in person as election workers confirmed my address and citizenship going door-to-door. The ID experience that preceded this election and the concern I wouldn’t be allowed to vote really got to me, and I felt like an un-person.

In an election nobody should feel like an un-person. It’s bad enough that people think their one vote out of millions is meaningless; it will be far worse if they were told that their very existence in democracy is null because they get by taking the bus. I think the state politicians trying to make this happen should consider my story. I’m left-wing, and I wouldn’t vote for them or their party, but I’m an educated middle class white person. Mine may be a face to the discrimination they actually choose to see.

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