They say ignorance is bliss. If so, I'm not too happy. You see, I'm an information addict. Each morning I have to have my fix. To get it, I immediately turn on the iPad to obtain newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, and anything else the web has to offer. So when I voted in the April 2012 primary, I entered the polling station as an informed voter loaded for bear.
I arrived at the polling station realizing that allowing people to vote was an extremely radical move by the Founders after the Revolutionary War. Even they didn't have full confidence granting the franchise, or right to vote, to everyone. Consequently, they restricted that right to white male landowners. And you can be sure that the Rush Limbaugh dittoheads of the time opposed allowing anyone to vote. They would have preferred a King George Washington leading a monarchy.
Gradually, progress was made as the franchise was expanded to include all white males, then all males, then women, then eighteen-year-olds. The conservatives, of course, were unnerved by each expansion of the franchise. They have tried to limit voter access to the polls by enacting poll taxes, reading tests and downright intimidation. Their latest effort in Pennsylvania is the enactment of a voter ID law, which will cost our cash-strapped Commonwealth millions of dollars since IDs must be provided free of charge to people needing them. Charging for IDs would constitute an illegal poll tax.
Voter fraud is practically nonexistent. We Americans, who supposedly value democracy, have one of the poorest voter turnouts of any democratic country. Half the people do not bother voting in major elections. In primary elections, up to 70% of the people do not turn out to vote. This, despite efforts to increase turnout through voter drives and motor voter registration. The voter ID law is just the latest attempt on the part of conservatives to limit the franchise, an effort they have been engaged in since the founding of the Republic.
With this information in mind, I unblissfully entered the polling station. I placed my signature in the book as I have always done. And then it started:
"Do you have any identification," asked the election lady.
"I don't wish to show any identification," I replied.
The curiosity of the poll cats working the election was immediately aroused. Such protests just do not occur in our election district. People quietly enter the polling station, place their signature in the book, enter the booth and vote, after which they schmooze a bit with friends and neighbors before heading home, their civic duty complete. A civil conversation ensued.
"You cannot enter the voting booth unless you show identification," said the lady working the poll.
"That would be incorrect," I said. "The new law says that you may request identification during this primary election, but the voter need not produce such identification."
"Sir, I just completed a training session, and we were told that Montgomery County requires identification before one can vote."
"Montgomery County laws cannot supersede state laws," I responded. "ID will be required for the fall election, but it is not necessary for this primary election. Now, if I may, I would like to cast my vote.
"I can give you a provisional ballot," she replied. "You may fill out the provisional ballot, after which I will give you a receipt. The receipt will allow you to find out whether your provisional ballot was accepted."
Now our polling station is located in a multipurpose room. On the other end of that room is a polling station for another district. I walked over to that polling station and asked officials if they were allowing people to vote without requiring ID. They said they were because the law said no ID was necessary until the fall election. I walked back to my polling station and informed the officials that the polling station across the room was allowing people to vote without an ID. That failed to impress anybody at my polling station, and so I left after filling out a provisional ballot.
My wife and I returned home a few hours later after having run some errands. Checking the answering machine, we listened to a message from the lady at the polling station. She said she had made a mistake, that I was indeed allowed to vote without showing ID, and could I please come back to the polling station and cast my vote in a voting booth.
So back to the polling station I went. As soon as she saw me, election lady began to apologize all over again. Forget it, I said. It was just my way of fighting the latest effort to suppress voter turnout. Most of them appeared to be unaware that this was an issue at all.
Again, I left the polling station, not in triumph, but with an air of sadness. Most voters are actually unaware, or just indifferent, about this latest assault on voting rights. No matter, at least they are happy.
The phrase "ignorance is bliss" was penned by English poet Thomas Gray. The complete quote is as follows: “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.”
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