Monday, October 29, 2007

Voter ID and Muslim Women

The Jurist had this report yesterday on proposed Canadian legislation that could greatly affect Muslim women and their rights to vote. Canada’s Conservative Party has introduced a Bill, Bill C-6, and the provincial government of Quebec has indicated that legislation will be introduced that will require Muslim women to lift their veils to vote in order to be allowed access to the voting booths. While such legislation has not been introduced in the United States (yet), Canada’s legislation presents issues that may arise with the United States’ recent push towards more voter identification requirements.

According to the article, the issue over Muslim women and their verification of identity is a result of an incident that happened in Quebec in March of this year. Quebec’s chief electoral officer refused to allow some Muslim women to vote without first viewing their faces to verify their identity; as would be expected, this drew criticism from Muslim rights groups and was eventually overruled by Elections Canada. At the time of this incident, the need to view the faces of potential voters was unclear, and the government now wants to clear any uncertainty over the issue.

As is the concern in the United States, Canada is attempting to prevent voter fraud by verifying the identities of voters. If passed, Muslim women will be taken into another room, where they can privately lift their veils for election officials. In this way, the election official can match the identification provided with the actual face of the potential voter.

The United States has not yet officially dealt with this issue, leaving questions both as to how election officials are to deal with the matter if no legislation or rules are created, and the religious freedoms of these Muslim women if legislation and rules are indeed introduced. First, election officials throughout the country are attempting to require proof of identity before the person is allowed to vote. Although much of the legislation requiring the presentation of identification is being challenged, such proof is still required in several states. However, even if identification is required to be provided in these states, hypothetically, and this may be the argument of the Canadians attempting to pass the above legislation, any person wearing a veil can present any identification without fear of having their right to vote challenged, increasing the possibility of voter fraud.

While there may be some valid reasons to what the Canadians are proposing, I believe that the second question, the question of religious freedom, presents a stronger argument for not requiring these women to show their faces. According to the Jurist article, Canada is already writing in exceptions for persons with facial bandages by allowing them to vote if they present two forms of identification or have a qualified voter with them who can vouch for their identification. If such exceptions can be made for persons not expressing their religious freedoms, the issue of the importance of requiring Muslim women to raise their veils becomes even more questionable.

Canada and the United States obviously have many differences; however, it appears that voter fraud is an issue being confronted by both countries. This legislation being proposed by Canada further demonstrates the problems with requiring the presentation of voter identification, problems not yet confronted and/or addressed by the United States. While the United States deals with challenges to their voter identification regulations based on challenges that such requirements constitute a “poll tax”, it will interesting to watch the situation in Canada in preparation for potential new challenges to our election process in the United States.

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