Politics Explained: Voter ID Laws

Voter ID laws have a habit of coming to the forefront of political news around election time for obvious reasons. Republicans claim that there exists massive amounts of voter fraud that undercuts the legitimacy of the voting process, and Democrats claim that Voter ID laws is nothing more than a Republican conspiracy to keep minority democrats from voting. It seems that both sides need to do a little more homework.

Normally, I like to take issues that I feel are clear cut and explain why I feel that I’m right and express my disbelief that anyone would disagree. I had every intention of doing that with Voter ID laws, but in preparing to write the post I found that the issue was not as simple as it seems. Instead of shying away from the topic because I will admit that I don’t know the answer, I decided that I should share what I know and together we can discuss a solution.

Before I continue much further, in the words of our 44th president, “let me be clear” about what we are talking about here when it comes to Voter ID laws. A Voter ID Law is any law put into place that requires a voter to present some form of identification upon voting. Depending on the state, that could be as little as a utility bill, or as much as a government issued photo ID (like a driver’s license).

Proponents of Voter ID laws feel that something as foundational to American democracy as voting should be protected. You have to show your ID to buy a beer, get on a plane, even when making credit card purchases; why not show your ID when you vote? The main purpose for presenting some form of ID when you vote is to prevent people from taking advantage of the system in a manner labeled “voter fraud.”

As it stands now, in states that don’t require any form of ID when voting, voter fraud is possible. As you may be aware, in such states (which is most states) to vote, all you need to do is register, which can be done by mail in many cases and requires no photo ID. However, as is the case in California, you need to include some sort of identification number with your mail in registration form(Drivers License number, SSN, etc.). When you register, your name goes on to a list that is then given to the volunteers at the polling stations on election day. If you forgot to add some sort of identification number on your registration to prove you weren’t registering a fake or dead person, then any form of ID (utility bill, drivers license, etc.) is required for the first time you vote.

Seems pretty secure right? Well, what if your grandmother was a registered voter and she died shortly before the election? Chances are, her name is not removed from that list meaning you could go up to the poll, say “Hi my name is [grandma]” and cast a ballot in her name. “Well, that’s silly,” you might be thinking, “I don’t know about your county, but our county has the most effective bureaucracy and things like the death of registered voters is taken care of right away.” Well, to you I say, never move from that county because the world isn’t that perfect.

But to the citizens of bureaucratically effective counties, how about this scenario? A person  goes to work on election day and is talking with a co-worker about how they don’t really care about voting this year, or about how, for some reason, they just won’t be voting. For a person dedicated to the cause of casting extra ballots, it would not be that difficult to discern where the person was supposed to vote and then just go there before the polls close and vote in that person’s name. Or, as it has happened in Mississippi, people can offer to pay people for their vote. One more thing that I thought was interesting. In California, one of the forms of ID you can show at the poll (when you vote for the very first time) is the sample ballot that they send to your house. That makes sense right? I mean the government sent a letter to a person on their records so it must be valid. But how did the name get on the records? By voter registration forms. So you’re telling me that I can fill out a voter registration form by mail, not include any ID number, sign it Mr. John Lies-a-lot, and have the government mail something to Mr. John L. and use that as my ID? (I would love for someone to clear that up for me by the way). But for now it is just something to consider.

As you can see, voter fraud is not by any means impossible, and Republicans will be throwing examples like this around to prove to you that this is an epidemic of epic proportions. To be quite honest, voter fraud doesn’t happen as often as is claimed, but why not just build your defenses before you’re attacked?

Well, here’s the general Democrat response. They make the claim Voter ID is inherently discriminatory. The people who would be affected by this are people who don’t have government issued IDs, which means lower class minorities (who also happen to vote democrat most of the time). Arguments against Voter ID laws also call to the fact that this may be considered a poll tax (having to pay to vote) which is strictly unconstitutional.

With the first argument about it being discriminatory, that’s for you too decide. If you think that this is a plot to suppress Democrat voters, then call it discriminatory. If you think that it’s a way of securing the integrity of the voting process, then you can probably dismiss that argument. By that I mean, dismiss the conspiracy theory, but keep in mind that the opponents of Voter ID laws are not exaggerating when they say that a majority of those affected are the poor. Which brings us to our last issue. How do we force people to get IDs in order to vote without making it a poll tax, because you can’t force people to buy something in order to vote.

So, we could just give them out for free. But just like everything else labeled “free” from the government, that means more taxes for you. Are we willing to do that? Well, fine then we will give them out only to the poor as part of a welfare program, but they need to prove that they are poor enough before they get their free ID. But does this not place too much of a burden on the poor who already struggle to take time out of their day to even make it to the polling station? Would that discourage voter registration among the poor, and is that a consequence we are willing to accept?

Before I make my final comments, keep in mind that proponents for Voter ID laws come from every party. According to a recent poll, 52% of Democrats,74% of Independents, and 87% of Republicans feel that voter ID laws are necessary.

So here is my suggestion, then I would ask you to please leave your ideas either in the comment box or on the People v. Ignorance Facebook Page.

I personally feel that regardless of whether or not voter fraud is common in America right now, that is now excuse to have a system that can be taken advantage of. The right to vote has been fought for too many times for us to simply let this issue fall by the wayside. We need to require photo IDs too vote; voting is just that important. But we can’t cast out our poor like this. That is the beauty of America, that the poorest citizens and the richest CEOs have an equal voice in the ballot box; we can’t place an undue burden on them. So, I would suggest that, if you want a free ID, you have to go to a government organization (City Library, DMV, etc.) to register to vote with proof of your poor financial situation. There your picture will be taken and ID will then be issued. Yes this means tax dollars will be used. But I don’t know if you’ve been to any of those government agencies recently, but there are things that can be done to make the processes more cost efficient, and the saved money could be used for this purpose.

It’s a tough question. What do you think? How do we solve the issue of Voter ID laws? Leave a comment below or, better yet, leave a comment on the People v. Ignorance Facebook Page.