Maryland is usually seen as a progressive state, and in truth it is a place where the American Legislative Exchange Council finds little support for its agenda. ALEC pushes "model" legislation that would roll back protections; from voting rights to the environment.
Even in Maryland, however, these harmful bills get introduced. One perennial favorite is legislation that would disenfranchise marginalized voters by requiring everyone to show a government issued identification to vote. The proponents argue that they don't intend to be discriminatory; they just want to clean up our voter rolls.
But during the debate on one such bill this week in the House of Delegates, an interesting exchange occurred -- one that exposes the thought process and possibly the true intent behind these bills. An advocate with Healthcare for the Homeless was testifying to the difficulties the homeless face in getting identification. He talked about the experience of Tony, a homeless client, and the astounding barriers before him.
The bill sponsor, Delegate Afzali, asked, "How is Tony getting his information in terms of the candidates and who is running and what the issues are?"
The advocate answered, "Even though he doesn't have an address, even though he lost identification, Tony is still able to get information. He gets newspapers, he still had conversations with -- you know, like any of us, he gets his information in various ways. Just because he didn't have an ID or have a place to call home"_ doesn't mean he wasn't interested in the process or educated in what was going on."
Del. Afzali responded, "Well, I would find that questionable, I'm not sure how Tony would get the kind of information that a voter would need in order to cast an educated vote if he's moving from place to place."
The entire crowd in the hearing room groaned, utterly astounded by this exchange. When the next panel went up to present -- a group that included several homeless individuals, both veterans, who had come to tell their personal story -- Del. Afzali left the room. When the gentlemen had finished speaking, Delegates George and Serafini quickly apologized for her comments.
Rarely is a legislator so frank and honest with their view of the world. This Delegate seems fine with voter ID laws, even if they do disenfranchise legitimate voters, because in her view we can't trust those voters to cast an educated vote. Perhaps the true problem is that we can't trust ALEC sponsors to introduce an educated bill.