Why are some Constitutional rights more important than others?
We hear a lot about Constitutional rights, but it seems some rights are more “Constitutional” than others.
Take the right to bear arms, which is guaranteed by the Second Amendment.
In 2010, according to FBI figures, more than 200 people on the Terror Watch List bought guns. That’s right, people on the Terror Watch List can legally buy guns. So can people who are mentally ill, unless they are ruled unfit by a judge.
In 2011, a gunman in Arizona killed six people and wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others. In 2012, a shooter in Colorado murdered 12 people in a movie theater.
But no matter how many shootings we have, gun control is not part of our political conversation. With the exception of some mayors, such as Michael Bloomberg of New York City, politicians fear even mentioning the issue. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence pinned Obama with an “F” for his lack of effort.
Such is the importance of our Constitutional rights. At least when it comes to guns.
Not so with voting rights.
In Delaware and elsewhere, Republicans have been busy pushing laws that require voters to present a photo ID. That sounds reasonable. We all want to be confident in the integrity of our elections. The Delaware law failed, but in most states they’ve succeeded. Delaware is one of only 19 states without a voter ID law.
There are two problems with these laws. One is that voter fraud is virtually non-existent. In 2011, Fox News headlined a website story, “Voter ID laws target rarely occurring voter fraud.” It said, “Even supporters of the new law are hard pressed to come up with large numbers of cases in which someone tried to vote under a false identity.
Statistics tell an even more dramatic story. A recent study, funded by the Carnegie and Knight foundations, found that out of 600 million votes cast in the U.S., there were 10 cases of alleged in-person voter fraud. That’s not a typo - we’re talking about 10 cases.
Why solve a problem that doesn’t exist? Sounds like Big Government overreach.
The second problem is that many people, perhaps 11 percent of the population, don’t have photo IDs. They tend to be minorities living in cities. Many don’t own cars and don’t have a driver’s license.
But let’s say, despite the lack of evidence that a real problem exists, that we wanted to try and prevent every last fraudulent vote. It’s not possible, of course, but work with me a minute.
At the very least, shouldn’t we proceed slowly - shouldn’t we do our utmost to make sure these people have proper photo IDs - before we start making it more difficult to exercise their Constitutional right to vote?
(Yes, many of the laws allow for voters without proper ID to sign an affidavit, but it’s another step. It makes it harder to vote. Conducting background checks at gun shows, for example, wouldn’t take away people’s right to buy or own guns, but the NRA considers it an infringement of the Second Amendment.)
What’s the hurry? The hurry, of course, is that there’s an election coming up and the GOP wants to suppress the vote. Pennsylvania Republican House leader Mike Turzai came right out and admitted it: “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”
We protect the Constitutional right of people on the Terror Watch List to buy guns. Isn’t it at least as important to protect the Constitutional rights of law abiding citizens to vote?
Debates on the way
In Friday’s Cape Gazette, Andy Staton’s campaign called for a series of debates among the Sixth Senate District candidates, which in addition to Staton, includes Republican Ernie Lopez and Libertarian Gwendolyn Jones.
“We were scratching our heads,” Lopez said. First, he said he hadn’t heard directly from the Staton campaign. Second, he said there is already one scheduled, the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce candidates forum at noon, Wednesday, Oct. 10, at Kings Creek Country Club.
Others are likely.
With the election looming, both campaigns are running hard. Lopez said he is maintaining his primary schedule of three nights after work and all day on Saturday. His usual 45-minute grocery shopping after church on Sunday, he said, turned into a 90-minute campaign stop because of all the wellwishers.
On the Democrat’s side, Campaign Manager Tom Nardi said Staton and two dozen volunteers were out knocking on doors in Lewes Sunday, with another dozen in Milton. It promises to be an exciting finish.
Don Flood is a former newspaper editor living near Lewes. He can be reached at email@example.com.