Have you ever discussed the rash of new laws requiring prospective voters to provide valid state issued identification before voting? Did you refer to these laws as “Voter ID laws?” If so, take out a jar, take out a dollar, bash your head into a table and then put the dollar in the jar. This is your new “Voter ID law” swear jar and you will use it every time you use the term “Voter ID.”
As a general rule, why would you ever accept the title for a law to describe the law to others? Titles are specifically chosen by the authors of those laws to cast legislation in the most positive light. When you talk about “Voter ID” laws, you reinforce the idea that these laws simply ask voters to provide ID to prove that they are who they claim. Most people use government-issued ID every day, to drive to work, board a flight, or get blitzed at the bar down the street. Calling for identification sounds like an incredibly low bar to set for voters, even if in reality this requirement disenfranchises many minority and elderly voters.
Some Democratic party officials have recognized the need for a better title to hang on these laws. For example, Representative John Lewis, a civil rights legend, has taken to labeling these laws “voter suppression laws.” The title does expose the real effect of these laws on basic civil rights, but taking such a strong stance with a title carries risks as well. Given that the “Voter ID” title is so engrained in the minds of Americans, any attempt to recast the title will be viewed with skepticism. When the Democratic party invokes the “voter suppression” title it comes across as a case of sour grapes. There is a ring of hyperbole in comparing the overt acts of violence and intimidation employed in the past or in functional dictatorships with a law asking voters to show an ID. It just doesn’t feel like “suppression” to the average American and this turns off those Americans in the middle on what should be important civil rights issue.
To change the narrative, there needs to be an alternative title that doesn’t hit the ear as an overreach, but still conveys something that offends the average American. Personally, I suggest using the phrase, “voter screening laws.” It doesn’t suggest that the recent spate of laws rise to the level of past suppression efforts in place before the civil rights movement, but it ups the ante from “showing an ID” to “being judged based on your ID.” Another advantage of the term “screening” is that it ties these laws to TSA airport screening, the most common instance of “screening” in American life. Whether or not the TSA is perfect, the fact remains that a national tragedy was caused in part by lax airport security and 10 years later Americans hate airport security. Boiled down to its essence, Americans prefer terrorism to a screening that might force them to take off their shoes.
Finally, I suggest peppering the rhetoric about this issue with the word “bureaucracy.” Combining “screening” with “bureaucracy” invokes the image of a petty bureaucrat standing between voters and their fundamental civil rights. I call this the “Patty and Selma” effect after Homer Simpson’s loathsome sisters-in-law who work at the Springfield DMV. If you want average Americans to join the fight against these laws, try to connect the voting experience to waiting at the DMV and see how quickly Americans turn on Voter ID laws.
Damn. I just had to put another dollar in my jar.