Make Voter ID as Easy as Voting

On Election Day, some voters will have to bring to the polling station more than their conviction of whom to vote for. If some states have their way, voters will also have to possess photo identification verifying that they are registered voters.

After more than 200 years of voting in America without photo ID, is voter identification suddenly necessary for a fraud-free democracy?

The answer is that voter identification has the potential to improve the validity of election results, but at the same time it has to be implemented in a way that won’t impede the democratic process, depriving some citizens of their right to vote. States that are so concerned with voter fraud should be equally concerned about losing a percentage of their electorate due to voter ID requirements.

The new requirement has some civil liberties and voters rights organizations crying foul and contesting the law in the courts. Groups such as the League of Women Voters and the NAACP charge that voter identification laws are but a way to disenfranchise the poor, many of whom are minorities, and the elderly. Some Civil Rights groups compare the mandatory ID at the polls to that of the Jim Crow laws in the South, where African Americans were prevented from voting because they couldn’t afford the poll tax.

There is nothing inherently wrong with requesting identification at the polling booth. Banks, credit card companies, office buildings — all routinely require some form of identification. However, civil rights groups claim that a voter identification photo ID that can only be obtained with another photo ID such as a driver’s license will discourage some from showing up at the polls on Election Day. A small but significant percentage of voters don’t have a driver’s license and the cost of procuring a form of acceptable photo ID will stop some of them from voting.

If some voters truly can’t afford the cost of a photo ID — as some legitimately can’t — states requiring ID should ensure that such identification is available free of charge. States will incur only a minimal cost from the small percentage of voters who will require free IDs.

Another argument against photo ID is that some voters will not invest the time to obtain one. That has some validity regarding the sick and the elderly, and state governments need to have a process for providing them with a mechanism to obtain an ID, but since when does being poor become an obstacle to waiting on line at a government office? Certainly, the unemployed don’t seem to have difficulty navigating their way to the unemployment office, nor do the indigent seem to have much of an issue when applying for entitlement programs at government offices. A few minutes on line is a small price for the right to vote.

Prosecutions for voter fraud are relatively rare, but so are indictments for shoplifting. That doesn’t mean shoplifting doesn’t occur. It’s just that shoplifting is a crime that’s difficult to catch or too costly to prosecute in many cases. Nevertheless, retailers spend billions of dollars on security to prevent it before the fact. Similarly, the extent of voter fraud may be far greater than the number of prosecutions meted out. Requiring identification will take the guesswork out of figuring out how prevalent fraud is in the voting booth.

Even if voter fraud is rare, its rarity doesn’t preclude the fact that when it does occur it may sway an election — and the course of history. A case in point is the senatorial contest in Minnesota in 2008, where Democrat Al Franken’s margin of victory over incumbent Republican Norm Coleman was — after numerous recounts — a paltry 312 votes.

According to John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky, authors of a book on voter fraud, 1099 felons, who are ineligible to vote, cast votes for Franken. Minnesota has so far convicted 177 of those, with more awaiting trial. Franken’s election became pivotal in the vote for Obamacare, as the senator’s vote was the one that made the measure impervious to a filibuster.

Even presidential elections, with millions of votes cast, are not immune from close elections. Consider the 2000 election where a few hundred votes in Florida determined the outcome of the presidential election.

Voter identification has no comparison to Jim Crow laws if states ensure that there are no unfair obstacles to obtaining that identification. Our current system is good and mostly accurate, but it should and could be made better with photo identification, giving the electorate more confidence in the outcome of the elections. Why have all the accusations of stolen elections flying back and forth when they can be eliminated with a simple ID card? Even a small amount of voter fraud imperils the legitimacy of a democracy.