ERROL CASTENS: Ethics and voter ID laws

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

How we as a society determine what is right and wrong is, to borrow the words of Churchill, “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
We scream, horrified, about the “wall of separation” between church and state when a kindergartner prays over her PBJ sandwich, but we knock down that wall when believers push back against paying, in violation of their religious principles, for abortifacients.
* More riddle/mystery/enigma. Every grade-school kid learns how cruel the Puritans were, locking criminals in stocks that subjected them to public humiliation. To our horror and indignation, some societies both past and present have also used caning – inflicting intense but short-term physical pain on miscreants.
We compassionate and enlightened societies instead lock them away, exposing them to rape and other attack, denying them any chance to furnish a living for any dependents they might have, promoting a rite-of-passage mind-set toward prison and minimizing any chance that they will become productive members of society.
“Out of sight, out of mind” does not excuse us of this responsibility. Surely as smart and creative as we are, we can think of ways (1) to make fewer things a criminal offense and (2) to offer effective and appropriate punishment for offenders that minimizes collateral damage to their families and society at large.
* I will never again complain about having too many keys. I did that once, but last week I lost a whole fistful of keys, including two for bank lockboxes that cost $250 to replace and another for a tractor that must be rewired for full function.
Primary lesson: We all need labeled duplicates of every key we own.
Related lesson: It would also be a disaster to lose a wallet without copies of everything in it – especially if one is away from home.
But I still don’t want any keys in my casket.
* You have to have a photo ID to pay for groceries with a check, get on a plane, take a college entrance exam, attend college, buy beer, drive a car, pick up prepaid concert tickets, have elective surgery, volunteer with some organizations, return purchases at some stores and buy either a firearm or ammunition.
So tell me again why it’s so terrible to require an ID to make sure nobody but me casts my vote?
* WREG in Memphis aired a story about Tennessee legislators among whom voting in the stead of absent or tardy colleagues is so common that many keep sticks at their desks so they can reach voting buttons without strain. Both Democrats and Republicans defended the practice.
If that’s their mind-set about the sanctity of the vote, no wonder too many lawmakers don’t get voter ID.
Errol Castens is the Oxford Bureau reporter for the Daily Journal. Contact him at

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