Montana Viewpoint: A rainy night in Georgia

Jim Elliott

A few days ago Georgia’s Republican Governor, Brian Kemp, signed a bill that narrows the ease and ability of Georgians to vote by saying, “With Senate bill 202, Georgia will take another step toward ensuring our elections are secure, accessible and fair.”

Meanwhile, in Arizona the Chairman of the House Government and Elections Committee, Republican Representative John Kavanagh, said more candidly and much more accurately, “everybody shouldn’t be voting.”

Kavanagh went on to say, “Not everybody wants to vote, and if somebody is uninterested in voting, that probably means that they’re totally uninformed on the issues. Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes, as well.”

The point of the 253 bills that have been introduced by Republicans in 43 states, in 23 of which Republicans are in full control, is to make it more difficult for some people to vote, and the assumption is—among both Republicans and Democrats—that those people would be more likely to vote Democrat. How can you make it more difficult for some people to vote and not others, you might ask. Easier than you think.

State and national political parties have highly sophisticated computer programs and databases that match voters’ political preferences with where they live, among other things, and also, in Alabama by race, which has to be provided on the voter registration form.

If you are at all familiar with what is called “credit scoring” used by credit rating agencies to assess a potential borrower’s ability to pay, the party identification lists are created in a like way. In credit scoring, a large number of people with known credit ratings are asked questions about where they live, their income, the type of car they drive, the number of cars they have, their shopping preferences (generated by shopper “loyalty” programs) the number of credit cards they have (the fewer the better); all are used to determine credit worthiness. Since the participants’ credit ratings are already known, they are matched with the data above. Then, with access to huge national databases, all those people who share a similar set of data are assigned a similar credit score. Voter identification data collection is done by using people of known political affiliation.

Showing a photo ID to vote is a popular requirement, but they are not all that simple to get. There are some people who are eligible to vote but not able to understand the paperwork requirements or even how to get the paperwork. Sure, most Montanans have drivers licenses, but those who don’t need to show a state issued picture ID. In Montana that costs $16.48.

I can understand paying for a license to drive, which is a privilege, not a right, but I don’t understand having to pay a fee to vote, which is a right, not a privilege. To apply for a Montana ID card the applicant has to make an appointment at the Drivers License Bureau, show up in person and provide proof of “Authorized Presence” (citizenship) by providing either a certified copy of a birth certificate—$8, or United States passport–$100.

Of course, to get your birth certificate you need to provide identification such as a passport or Montana ID card. For those who go through the process and pay up to $118.48 you certainly have a dedicated or, “quality” voter, but it does cut down on the “quantity” which is precisely the point. There are lots of other ways to discourage voters; limit voting places in certain areas, making them harder to get to, limit numbers of locations, thereby creating longer lines and wait times and thirsty voters. The new Georgia law makes it a crime to give water bottles to voters waiting in lines.

This past election, as I have previously pointed out, was very, very good for Republicans except in three races, the presidency and two Georgia Senate races. The voter turnout surpassed that of all previous elections, and Republicans won because of the quantity of voters, not just the quality. Perhaps the quality of the candidate matters more than the quality of the voter.

As the song said, “It’s a rainy night in Georgia, and I feel like it’s rainin’ all over the world.”

Jim Elliott served sixteen years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.