Brennan: Voting restrictions are essential

By Tom Brennan |

When a politician raises the issue of voter restrictions you need to take a good look at the issue before you fly off the handle.

After all, some restrictions are obviously essential. Take, for instance, being old enough to vote and being a resident of the state or city whose election you want to vote in.

Those things are obvious, but the people who oversee elections often have to deal with unwarranted accusations from people whose voting is being challenged. Being eligible to vote is necessary, but those who are challenged often become furious.

For those reasons, being an election official is not always the most-desired position available in a community. But it’s like becoming a police officer. Some people just want to challenge you because of your job. Somebody must do the job and they must be qualified and well-trained in its requirements.

Making sure that those who come to the polls and seek to cast a vote have the right to do so is a critical government function. And those who do the job often have to deal with furious people who see your questioning them as an attempt to limit voting.

Well, voting is a right limited to adults who meet certain requirements. And those vary from state to state. Some states won’t allow convicted felons to vote. Most allow them to regain the vote, though they have to earn it, especially by staying out of jail. And doing that sets limits on how they behave.

And some states even have laws that are intended to discourage voting by minorities and low-income people. All I’ll say about those states is that this column isn’t published in any of them. If it ever is I promise I will fight against such laws.

Some of our politicians, like President Joe Biden, are adding confusion to the fire with false claims. In Biden’s case those are almost entirely misunderstandings caused by his sometimes stumbling oratory. The other day the president gave a speech in Philadelphia and claimed that Republican efforts to improve voting laws were a “21st Century Jim Crow assault” on election law.

That was a gross exaggeration. The Jim Crow laws were requirements in places like Mississippi to keep black people away from the polls. The requirements President Biden was denouncing were Republican attempts to require that voters show a photo ID. These days almost everybody has, or can fairly easily get, a photo identification card. And election officials must be able to make sure that the person seeking to vote is who he or she say they are and that they are indeed eligible.

The United States has always had a sizable number of people within its borders who are here illegally and are ineligible for some of its benefits. Knowing who those people are and limiting their access to privileges intended for citizens is an important function for many government officials.

Because of Alaska’s unique location on the map it has always been an attractive destination for visitors and those who choose to make a life here. My wife and I came to Alaska years ago as reporters for The Anchorage Times. We quit our jobs at a Massachusetts newspaper, wrote to Bob Atwood applying for jobs here and — after getting a positive response from editor Bill Tobin — took off across country.

Bob Atwood had once worked for the same Massachusetts newspaper we worked for and got his job at The Anchorage Times by marrying the publisher’s daughter, who went to school there. We did it the hard way but that long drive up the unpaved Alaska highway was just as bumpy for Bob and Evangeline as it was for Marnie and I.

Once we got here we gave no thought to going back. Alaska is a unique place on the map and for the right people it can be the perfect place.

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