Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Why Not ID Voters?

As we head into election season, voter fraud will become a political issue again. Each party has it's favorite way of worrying that the other is stealing the election. Typically, Democrats claim that Republicans are keeping minorities away from the polls and that sinister corporations and officials will use voting machines and "confusing" ballots to steal elections. Republicans worry that Democrats will cheat via bussing in unregistered voters or voting multiple times.

The Obama administration may be getting into the fray, as Eric Holder's Justice Department weighs whether to attack laws requiring photo ID in order to vote as alleged violations of the Voting Rights Act. Liberal opinion makers are urging on this effort, maintaining that because the percentage of minorities who lack photo ID is slightly higher than the percentage of whites, this is clearly a racist plot. The additional evidence to support the racism theory is that these laws have more often been passed in Southern states -- though I tend to think this is simply a function of the fact that preventing voter fraud is more of a Republican issue (they suspect, rightly, that voter fraud won't help them) and it's mostly Southern states that are controlled by Republicans.

Perhaps I take the right to vote a little too casually, but it seems to me that when we've already required photo Id to get a job, buy a drink, drive or travel by air, being denied the chance to vote for lack of ID is not the largest problem you would have. It's virtually impossible to get along as an adult in modern American society without photo ID, and mostly for good reasons. Having gone that far, I don't see how it's any hardship to expect people to show ID in order to vote. It's true that in recent years there's little evidence of voter fraud involving people impersonating someone else being a statistically significant contributor to election results, but nonetheless it seems like a basic element of good civic process to expect people who want to vote to show that they are who they say who they are. Frankly, the only reasons I can see for opposing voter ID laws are:

1) A partisan desire to disagree with the other party or
2) An expectation that you really do have a number of people who aren't legitimate voters who would cast ballots on your behalf.

Voter ID laws are not the grandfather or literacy tests of the Jim Crow era, and to treat them as such is simply dishonest, sensational, and corrosive to the public square.


Brandon said...

I always find this dispute interesting. The United States didn't have secret ballots at all until the 1830s, and most states didn't even have them until half a century later; not only did people know that you voted, they could often know who you voted for. Going to the Australian ballot cured some obvious abuses (e.g., attempts at intimidation or bribery), but seems to have raised new arguments that don't go away.

Jennifer Fitz said...


One argument I've read and agree with is that mandatory state-issued ID's make it difficult for people who don't drive to be able to vote. Not because the state won't issue a non-driver's ID card, but because it is often very difficult for the non-driver to get to the DMV to get the card.

I live a block from my polling place. Were I unable to drive, I'd have no difficulty with continuing to vote. But getting 15 miles away to the DMV (zero public transit between here and there) to get a new non-driver card issued? Much more difficult.

That probably sounds like trivial whiner-talk to you. Get hit by a serious health problem out of the blue, you quickly learn that no, it's not trivial. It's hard enough getting groceries, rides to doctor's appointments, etc etc. Adding an extra hurdle to voting is likely to disenfranchise the people who are already most marginalized.

Darwin said...


True, but it's not as if one has to get a new photo ID every time one wants to vote. Once obtained, the card can usually be renewed by mail for 10 or more years. I'm not sure that having to make a pilgrimage to the DMV once every decade is necessarily a massive burden.

But more to the point, if having photo ID is such a major obstacle in these circumstances, it seems to me that it would come up much more on issues other than voting. You generally have to produce photo ID in order to get a job. You have to show it in order to cash a check or open a bank account. If you need to visit a far away relative you can't fly. Not to mention things that are more everyday but would be frustrating to be denied -- something as simple as buying a drink.

I suppose I'm vaguely open to the argument, but frankly if that's the case society needs to stop requiring ID for a host of other things first. If we think it's okay to deny people jobs, transportation, and the ability to transact basic financial transactions due to lack of photo ID, why is voting suddenly the bridge to far?

Foxfier said...

you forgot that you need photo ID to use a credit card, or a check, at most places. I also had to offer photo ID for the background check to rent at my complex.
(I only started paying attention after my checkbook was stolen... and they didn't manage to steal any money in the week before I found out, because it was a group of several men!)

Bob the Ape said...

In every campaign, there are volunteers who help register new voters; in every election there are volunteers who drive voters to the polls. There can be volunteers who take voters to get their photo IDs.

Foxfier said...

*tries to imagine ACORN's spin on why they can't shift to helping people get IDs, thus improving their lives AND improving the voter pool*

Barbara C. said...

And in some of the states that require a photo ID it doesn't have to be a state-issued ID...a college ID or something similar is allowed as long it as the person's name and picture. So when I was 18 I could use my 6 Flags season pass or currently, my parks district ID.

Similarly in one of the states under fire (I can't remember which one) they said they were willing to offer a program to come to people's homes to make IDs. In this digital age, all they need is a small laptop with a digital camera and a mini-printer to crank those things out.