Opinion: Past the Spin, Why Voter ID Laws Make Sense

Monday, July 16, 2012 - 02:00 PM

Texas Drivers License. (Erik Gustafson/flickr)

As usual, both sides of the fight over voter ID laws are acting so childish that it's hard to have a serious conversation about it. Depending on where you're getting your news, the media noise on this would seem to indicate that the two sides are roughly on equal footing, or even that opponents on the left are winning the argument. But, in reality, polling data shows widespread support for Voter ID laws.

Let's not pretend that the Republicans aren't at least partly for Voter ID laws because it will benefit them a bit, or that Democrats aren't against it because it will hurt them. But as much as the left wingers and race baiters would like to think otherwise, you can't get to 70 percent of the country supporting someone with Jim Crow-loving racists and right-wing activists hell bent on seeing fewer black people vote for President Obama.

Most people haven't even heard the Republican talking points on this issue. I'd venture to say that the super-majority, and then some, that is for Voter ID laws aren't that way because of the (often rather ridiculous) Republican rhetoric, but because having a law that says that you should show some form of ID to verify that you're who you say you are when you vote just plain makes good sense to most people. I've tested this out on a few non-political people, and they thought the same thing. One of them even got one of the two caveats that I think are necessary to make Voter ID fair.

At it's most basic level, requiring that ID makes sense, but it occurred to the aforementioned friend that some people might not have the ID. So, like me and other people looking at this, they thought that Voter ID should have to be coupled with a law that said some form of necessary identification must be made available for free, so even the most poor wouldn't be barred from voting. This would serve a secondary benefit of making it easier for the poor to have identification, which has all sorts of upsides.

Those who compare Voter ID to Jim Crow only have a bit of a point if, and only if, the necessary identification costs money. If it does, then this does amount to a back door poll tax.

With free identification, the Jim Crow labeling just doesn't make any sense. Requiring identification to cast a vote isn't segregation. It doesn't require people to take a difficult test intentionally designed to weed a segment of the population out. It applies to everyone and people aren't crying foul over the requirement for some form of identification with all sorts of other activities that involve interacting with governments.

The left is right about one thing though. The chink in the GOP's rhetorical armor is that there really isn't evidence of much voter fraud going on. A bad salesman, making a bad pitch, doesn't change the merits of the product itself though.

The other caveat I'd add is that there needs to be a way for someone who accidentally forgets their identification to cast some form of provisional ballot, then verify their identity in some convenient way within a few days. I have to stress here that it has to be easy, as I've heard that some states make this somewhat complicated.

Put those three things together - having a free basic state ID, a simple provisional ballot and requiring identification to vote - is one of those rare situations where two plus two equals more than four. I'd even venture to bet that you could get into the 75 percent range in polls if you gave this as an option.

But, as usual, I don't expect many (if any) of the people with the megaphones to be talking this sort of sense. The Democrats will keep playing the race card, passing up an opportunity to try and take the high road, and get proper identification into the hands of the poor in states where they can't already get it for free. The Republicans see the writing on the wall in the polling numbers, and aren't likely to quit spreading the myth of widespread voter fraud. Meanwhile, most of the media seems intent on merely reporting on the battle going on between the two sides, rather than informing people that there is more to the debate than race baiting and blatantly false talking points.



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Comments [10]

RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

Solomon -

The entirety of this 'problem' and it is indeed a false one -- could be avoided if the photo ID rule was applied only at the first vote cast at a NEW polling place. Why add a burden of photo identification for voters who are casting their vote at the same polling place they have used for years and in some cases decades? The polls are staffed by local people - often the SAME people who worked the last election - and the problem of identification of the right individual does not exist.

A bigger problem is that our system of voting is antiquated and in too many cases subject to electronic manipulation. What is the point of requiring a citzen to show up at a specific place on a specific day during a specific time? It does not match the way that most folks run their lives. Some jurisdictions broadened the voting period and their voter participation shows the acceptance. Most voters who do not want to show up at the polls (and our military) have to vote absentee. And absentee votes frequently are not counted unless the margin of victory is slim enough for the outcome to be affected.

The outcome of the Florida 2000 vote count is illustrative. There can be no doubt that if the state were able to accurately count ALL cast votes that Al Gore would have won the election.

My suggestion would be a secure voter ID card issued free at the time of registration. This card be be used to cast a vote AT ANY ATM - with appropriate legislation to ensure that any attempt to subvert, destroy, deny or the individuals right to cast a vote in a fair election will be prosecuted. Can the banking system/electronics companies come up with a counterfeit-proof card? Or at least 99.999999% counterfeit-proof? Can we get our national voter participation up to 75%?

Oct. 07 2012 10:50 AM
Marcello from Brooklyn

On this one I agree with SK 100%. There is nothing wrong in my opinion with requiring an ID when casting a vote. That's the case in my country as well and in most of Europe.

I also agree that if an ID is made a requirement for voting then it should be completely available for free in every state. Until these conditions are met in every state, there should be no restrictions at all on the right to exercise your vote. Therefore all the laws passed so far by states like Florida and Pennsylvania should be scraped.

Finally I would add that, even if you agree as I do, with the requirement to have an ID when voting, only an idiot would not see that all this newfound urgency on the part of the GOP to fight the battle of non-existing voter fraud is just a pretext to suppress unfriendly vote which is frankly a scandal worth of a banana republic and should not be allowed to stand.

Jul. 31 2012 11:21 AM
Solomon Kleinsmith from Omaha, NE

I most certainly DID NOT say that people against voter ID are "left wingers and race baiters".

I said that left wingers and race baiters are trying to pretend that racism and right wingers are the only ones who support voter ID, when polls show high 60's and low 70's supporting it, and that you can't get to those numbers with just right wingers and racists. If this were the case, it wouldn't have gotten out of the 20's, or MAYBE the low 30's.

And I also explained myself quite well on why I support Voter ID. Trying to pretend like "because it just makes sense" is a good summary of my view is just plain childish, and a horrible straw man.

Jul. 22 2012 12:08 AM
Andres from Washington

@Solomon - "it just makes sense" is one of the least persuasive arguments for Voter ID I have ever heard. Is that really your core argument? That's why this type of bland centrism is never really registered.

You called people against the voter ID "left wingers and race baiters". Here's Eric Holder likening the Voter ID to a poll tax, which, as we all know, disenfranchised poor, black people. So yes, you spoke about Eric Holder.

@Ralph - It's really fascinating that "Most fraud goes undetected" but somehow your secret powers allow you to 'detect it'. If you cite some evidence outside of your own magical fraud detector machine, I'll listen. Until then, I'll cite Supreme Court cases that show there is little evidence of it occurring.

Jul. 17 2012 10:19 PM
Solomon Kleinsmith from Omaha, NE

"You are correct that vote fraud can be altered without changing any laws."

I apologize... the headline does not, in any way, reflect my perspective on this issue. I don't understand why whoever posted this added this headline, but I asked them to change it, and they have yet to.

I do think that laws need to change, and that Voter ID laws make perfect sense, if coupled with the two other policy points I mention above.

Jul. 17 2012 06:24 PM
Solomon Kleinsmith from Omaha, NE

"Yet your idea is still a solution in search of a problem - if there isn't widespread evidence, then why do it at all? So the Republicans will shut up about it?"

I already said why - right there in the post. It just makes sense that you should have to verify who you are with some form of identification, when you're doing something like this.

"You really think Erik Holder is race-baiting?"

I have an idea... lets see if you can put even more ridiculous things into my mouth that I didn't say... oops, too late.

I didn't even mention Eric Holder. I may be wrong, but I don't recall him specifically doing so.

"You really think that people who don't drive, who don't travel (of which there are millions) should have to get their picture taken to vote? You have to get a library card with an ID because you could steal property,, you have to show ID at the hospital so that they can keep track of your health history, but for voting it's not necessary, because people just don't commit voter fraud."

Are you being purposefully dense, or are you so incredibly blinded by some weird ideologically twisted worldview that you can't even read where I very clearly said that it's not an issue of it being widespread, but that it just make sense that it should be the case?

As I said above, there are all sorts of things people need ID for to interact with the government. Voting is more important than all of them to me, and certainly much more important than medical records or library books.

Jul. 17 2012 06:21 PM
Ralph Zazula from

You are correct that vote fraud can be altered without changing any laws. You are wrong to think it can ever be eliminated. Greatly reduced, yes, eliminated no.

You then suggest changes in voter id laws that if made would fix the problem without changing voter id laws??? But I think I understand your point.

I have much experience watching voters and officials in many polling places on election days. What I have observed includes:

There is a significant amount of election and vote fraud that is occurring. Enough to change the outcome of many elections.

Polling officials generally do not follow existing rules and regulations designed to combat fraud. Will passing more regulations change this?

If current rules and regs were followed, most existing fraud would be eliminated.

Most fraud is organized by groups not conducted by individuals.

Most fraud goes undetected. That which is detected is most often ignored. At the end of the day the only statistic tracked is usually arrests, for which there are none, no matter how many people cheat or are stopped while cheating.

Officials enable fraud to occur, knowingly.

Most polling officials do not know and do not have the proper training on the laws, rules, and regulations. They often make rules up as they go along.

The biggest problem is not the corrupt officials or the people who cheat but the apathetic electorate.

If honest people show up on election day and watch the vote, if they spend time making sure officials are following the laws, problems related to fraud would really be insignificant.

Improvements can be made in the law. Good changes only require common sense. I personally oppose requiring a photo ID to vote. There are better options. I oppose giving free ID's out to anyone, but it is not a big deal if a state wants to waste money to do that.

The bottom line is that you will not stop the fraud until the public cares enough. That is not likely to occur anytime soon. The only thing voter ID laws will do is make it more difficult for the large numbers of cheaters and somewhat more difficult for a tiny percentage of real voters.

Jul. 17 2012 02:26 PM
Andres from Washington

I apologize - I read too fast. You're right that you mentioned "there isn't much voter fraud going on". My apologies.

A few issues - you make a good point that "people aren't crying foul over the requirement for some form of identification with all sorts of other activities that involve interacting with governments". Yet your idea is still a solution in search of a problem - if there isn't widespread evidence, then why do it at all? So the Republicans will shut up about it?

You really think Erik Holder is race-baiting? You really think that people who don't drive, who don't travel (of which there are millions) should have to get their picture taken to vote? You have to get a library card with an ID because you could steal property,, you have to show ID at the hospital so that they can keep track of your health history, but for voting it's not necessary, because people just don't commit voter fraud.

It is absolutely a way for the republicans to trim the rolls of democratic voters, and it's profoundly anti-democratic.

Jul. 17 2012 01:10 AM
Solomon Kleinsmith from Omaha, NE

I'm... a little confused.

I didn't say there isn't voter fraud going on. I said there is no evidence of WIDESPREAD voter fraud. I very clearly came out FOR Voter ID laws, as long as they are tied together with the aforementioned free IDs and easy late voting.

I do think both sides are usually wrong. This is not even an equivalency, much less a false one. That would imply that I think both are equally bad. Sometimes they roughly are, but most of the time, depending on the issue, one is more in the wrong than the other. That doesn't necessarily make the other side right. Sometimes it does, but sometimes they're partly right (as with the GOP on this issue), sometimes neither are, etc.

On this issue, the right is more in the right policy wise, but in the wrong with their overblown rhetoric. In fact, that sentence could be a quick summary of the post.

I never said everything falls in the middle, nor do I believe it to be the case.

Jul. 16 2012 11:24 PM
Andres from Washington, DC

Solomon - it's easy being a centrist because you always come across as unimpeachably rational. But your centrism, and simplistic false equivalences - "Both sides are bad..yadda yadda" blinds you to the reality that a lot of things don't fall in the middle. If you had done a little more research, you would have come across the GOP's larger argument - Voter ID Fraud. Which, ironically, is a fraud.

"While the brief indicates that the record evidence of in-person fraud was overstated because much of the fraud was actually absentee ballot fraud or voter registration fraud, there remain scattered instances of in-person voter fraud."

Instead of your scientific interviewing of "non-political" you should just, uh, read more.

Jul. 16 2012 09:14 PM

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