Essay:Voter ID: A Personal Reflection
There is now just over a month before the 2012 Presidential election, and this election will be the first one where restrictive Voter ID laws will be enforced in more than a couple states. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of October 2, 2012, four states will have laws enforced in the November 2012 election requiring most voters to provide an approved photo identification in order to have their vote counted. Five other states currently have their laws blocked for the November 2012 election. Thirty states will request some form of identification from voters in November 2012.
Nevertheless, every state with a voter ID law has their own variation on what sort of identification is required (including whether the identification must have a photo), and whether or not a vote will count if the voter does not present identification (strict voter ID vs. non-strict voter ID). Additionally, within the classes of strict vs. non-strict ID and photo vs. non-photo ID, there are variations in exactly what kinds of ID are acceptable, what types of identification the state makes available to those lacking a valid ID, and the documentation and procedure required to obtain such identification.
Although journalists find it convenient to lump all voter ID laws together in discussion, more sophisticated individuals (such as the readers of Conservapedia) will appreciate the subtle nuances of each individual law (especially the law, if any, of their own state). Polls regularly show that most people agree that the general idea of voter ID is a good thing to have in our election system. In deciding whether a voter ID law is good or bad, an empiricist like me would have to examine both the pluses of a specific voter ID law (in terms of reducing fraud, increasing trust in elections, making polls more efficient) versus its minuses (disenfranchisement, reducing trust in government, costs of training and issuing free identification to those lacking it). A good citizen or legislator will also compare the pluses and minuses for individual provisions to determine the best voter ID law, if any, for their state.
(will expand later)
- 1 Arguments to avoid in Voter ID discussions
- 1.1 No one lacks ID
- 1.1.1 Identification is necessary for X, and therefore it should be required to vote
- 1.1.2 Identification is necessary to purchase a gun, and the Second Amendment grants a constitutional right, like voting, and so ID should be required to vote
- 1.1.3 Identification is necessary to obtain government benefits to which individuals are entitled, and therefore it should be required to vote
- 1.1.4 You are required by law to carry identification, and if you do not, the police can arrest you, and so voters not having ID is not a big issue
- 1.1.5 Because you must be a citizen to vote, every registered voter has proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate) and therefore cannot be disenfranchised by state requirements to present proof of citizenship to obtain ID
- 1.1.6 Because you must be a resident to register to vote, every registered voter has proof of residency and therefore cannot be disenfranchised by state requirements to present proof of residency to obtain ID
- 1.2 People who lack ID are not trying hard enough
- 1.2.1 People who claim that they cannot get to the DMV to get ID are lying because, if so, they would not be able to get to their polling place
- 1.2.2 Because their state does not charge to obtain Voter ID, it does not disenfranchise and is not a poll tax
- 1.2.3 People would go out of their way to obtain ID if there were a reward, and therefore those lacking ID do not have enough incentive to exercise the franchise and therefore should not vote
- 1.2.4 People who protest about not being able to get ID could have used those efforts to actually obtain ID and therefore they should not vote
- 1.3 There is widespread fraud, and Voter ID reduces its occurrence
- 1.3.1 Voter ID prevents registration fraud (like that committed by ACORN workers)
- 1.3.2 Voter ID prevents double voting
- 1.3.3 Dead people cast votes on a widespread scale
- 1.3.4 Voter impersonation occurs on a widespread scale
- 1.3.5 Voter ID prevents ineligible felons from voting
- 1.3.6 Illegal immigrants cast votes on a widespread scale
- 1.3.7 You would lose your vote without recourse if someone cast a ballot in your name without ID
- 1.1 No one lacks ID
- 2 References and footnotes
Arguments to avoid in Voter ID discussions
I have been following Voter ID for much of 2012. What I have noticed is that the arguments for and against Voter ID have shifted over time, both in response to events involving Voter ID (like new legislation, procedures, or court rulings) and as new arguments develop and old, refuted arguments are discarded. When a commentator uses a long-refuted argument in favor of Voter ID, I personally cannot help but wonder sometimes whether the commentator is actually a liberal troll parodying conservatives (like Stephen Colbert). Thus, below I offer a list of arguments that proponents should avoid in voter ID discussion, not only to avoid making themselves look like fools but also to further trustworthy discourse on this important issue.
(I will get to a list of arguments opponents should avoid later)
No one lacks ID
Identification is necessary for X, and therefore it should be required to vote
Proponents suggest that few people lack valid ID because it is necessary to perform everyday activities, as well as that because some activities (such as financial transactions) require ID, voting, which is more important, should likewise require ID.
However, voting is different from these sorts of activities in that the integrity of the voting system also depends on who does not get to cast a ballot (the extreme example being a dictatorship's sham elections that show a dictator being "re-elected" with "100%" support). Thus, increasing requirements for voting is really a trade-off between preventing fraud on one end and preventing disenfranchisement on the other end. In contrast, the fact that my neighbor cannot cash a check because she has no acceptable ID does not jeopardize the integrity of the financial system.
Further, voting is a right of citizens, protected under the US Constitution (Amend. XV, Amend. XIX, Amend. XXIV, Amend. XXVI) and Supreme Court decisions (Baker v. Carr , Harman v. Forssenius , Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections , Dunn v. Blumstein , Bush v. Gore ). Ordinary activities, even ones that are indisputably common activities, are not constitutionally protected like voting.
Finally, it should be noted that identification acceptable for other purposes may not be accepted for voting. Many of the strict photo ID laws (such as South Carolina's, Tennessee's, and Texas's) require identification from an enumerated list.
Doing X with private company Y
As a general rule, private parties are free to request whatever sort of identification they want, just as they are free to demand or negotiate other contract terms. To suggest that government should require voter ID because some private businesses do so on their own accord is silly. It would be like noting that many bank account holders are required to agree to arbitrate disputes with their banks, and therefore suggesting that the court system be scrapped. Or, for that matter, it is like observing that one must have a credit card to make online purchases or conduct online transactions, and therefore a credit card must be required to vote.
The remaining examples of arguments in this section are based on requirements of law, and therefore deserve special consideration:
Boarding an airplane
First of all, the predicate that one must present photo ID to board an airplane is dubious. From the TSA's website:
|“||Not having an ID, does not necessarily mean a passenger won't be allowed to fly. If passengers are willing to provide additional information, we have other means of substantiating someone's identity, like using publicly available databases.||”|
In Gilmore v. Gonzales (435 F.3d 1125 (9th Cir. 2006)), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit discussed the constitutionality of the TSA policy of requesting identification at airports. John Gilmore, who had a ticket for a flight from Oakland to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, refused to present identification at the ticket counter. As a result, the airline representative issued a new ticket noting that Gilmore was to be searched before boarding. Gilmore then went to San Francisco International Airport, attempted to buy a ticket to Washington, D.C., again refused to provide identification, and was told that he could board without identification by agreeing to be selected to undergo a more thorough than normal search. The Ninth Circuit found that there is no Constitutional right to air travel.
Opening a bank account
Cashing a check
Driving a car
Obtaining health care
Purchasing tobacco or alcohol
Filling out an I-9 form for employment
Identification is necessary to purchase a gun, and the Second Amendment grants a constitutional right, like voting, and so ID should be required to vote
Identification is necessary to obtain government benefits to which individuals are entitled, and therefore it should be required to vote
You are required by law to carry identification, and if you do not, the police can arrest you, and so voters not having ID is not a big issue
People who assert this point are probably referring to the Court's decision in Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada dealing with Nevada's stop and identify statute, NRS 171.123(3). In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy explains that "the statute does not require a suspect to give the officer a driver's license or any other document. Provided that the suspect ... states his name ... no violation occurs."
Because you must be a citizen to vote, every registered voter has proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate) and therefore cannot be disenfranchised by state requirements to present proof of citizenship to obtain ID
The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) requires states to accept a federal voter registration form. In 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that an Arizona law requiring voter registration forms to be submitted with proof of citizenship is preempted by the NVRA. Although a petition for a writ of certiorari has been filed with the Supreme Court, the law as it stands bars states from requiring proof of citizenship.
The federal form does require registrants to affirm that they are citizens who are 18 years or older in age, but this is not the same as requiring proof of citizenship, like a birth certificate.
Because you must be a resident to register to vote, every registered voter has proof of residency and therefore cannot be disenfranchised by state requirements to present proof of residency to obtain ID
Although HAVA does have ID requirements for voters who register by mail and then seek to cast a ballot for the first time, no proof of residency is required to register to vote. It does happen that some residents, especially the homeless or those taken care of by family, may lack the proofs or residency (such as utility bills or bank statements) required to obtain ID in most states.
People who lack ID are not trying hard enough
People who claim that they cannot get to the DMV to get ID are lying because, if so, they would not be able to get to their polling place
There are far more polling places than DMV locations. In Pennsylvania, there are over 9000 polling locations, but only 72 PennDOT locations issuing voter ID, and not all of them open five days a week or more.
Because their state does not charge to obtain Voter ID, it does not disenfranchise and is not a poll tax
People would go out of their way to obtain ID if there were a reward, and therefore those lacking ID do not have enough incentive to exercise the franchise and therefore should not vote
People who protest about not being able to get ID could have used those efforts to actually obtain ID and therefore they should not vote
There is widespread fraud, and Voter ID reduces its occurrence
This includes arguments of the form "The only reason that someone would oppose Voter ID is so they could commit fraud/benefit from fraudulent votes."
Voter ID prevents registration fraud (like that committed by ACORN workers)
In most cases, requiring an ID at the polling place cannot stop fraudulent registration, since registration does not require ID.
Voter ID prevents double voting
This is not true whether a voter casts ballots in multiple precincts in the same state or ballots in multiple states.
Dead people cast votes on a widespread scale
Voter impersonation occurs on a widespread scale
Voter ID prevents ineligible felons from voting
Illegal immigrants cast votes on a widespread scale
You would lose your vote without recourse if someone cast a ballot in your name without ID
References and footnotes
- Slip Op. at 6
- Arizona and Kansas have laws that require proof of citizenship to register to vote, but, as stated above, such requirements appear preempted by the NVRA, at least in the 9th circuit, according to Gonzalez v. Arizona.
- It certainly cannot stop someone from casting a ballot in a voter ID state and then casting a ballot in a non-voter ID state. Even when all states involved require voter ID, it is sometimes possible to present the same identification to both states. For example, to my knowledge, a US passport is acceptable for identification in every state, and the home address of a US passport is penciled in by the holder. Also, a South Carolina DMV-issued ID card is valid in not only South Carolina but also Tennessee and Kansas.