Top 10 Reasons Photo ID Should Be Required To Vote

Top 10 Reasons Photo ID Should Be Required To Vote

The USA is a democracy.  The Founding Fathers worked hard to establish not only independence from foreign rule but to create a nation where the leaders were answerable to the people.

The right to vote is a cornerstone of American Democracy and it is one that has been hotly contested throughout the history of the US.  The nation, after all, was founded following a dispute about a lack of representation!  From those early crusaders for the concept of ‘no taxation without representation’ to the campaigns for women’s suffrage and the black vote people have instinctively understood the importance of the right to vote and how powerful that is.  By withdrawing or restricting voting rights a state or nation is effectively telling someone that they are not important, that their voice does not deserve to be heard.

In recent years the debate on voting rights has centered on the question of voter ID – whether it is required to prevent fraud at the polls or whether regulations imposing the requirement to show ID before voting is an unfair restriction on the right to vote that disproportionately affects black and minority ethnic voters and those from the poorer segments of society.

We believe that Voter ID is important and have listed the top 10 reasons why.

  1. Many States Already Require ID To Vote. Harmonizing The Requirement Across All 50 States Makes Sense

Voter ID Laws should be uniform nationwide and enforced
Voter ID Laws should be uniform nationwide and enforced

As a federal democracy each state is entitled to control its own voting laws, although there are some similarities there are also some differences.  There is, at present, no federally governed, unified system of voting.  That is as it should be, the States are best placed to ensure that they have a voting system that is appropriate for and works for the needs of their residents but it does mean that registration and voting requirements are confusing, particularly for people who move state regularly.

While some states allow American citizens to vote without ID 34 States require a voter to present some element of ID.  The type of ID that has to be presented varies.

So called ‘’strict’ ID laws require a voter to present ID.  If they do not have any ID on their person they are provided with a separate ballot which is kept back from the main count.  If the voter returns with acceptable ID within a specified period of time the vote is counted.  If they do not the vote is considered void.  Non strict states allow a voter who does not have ID to swear an affidavit as to their identity or be identified by a polling official if they are known to them personally.  Some states (both strict and non strict) require photo ID whereas non photo ID is acceptable in others.

It is ridiculous for there to be such a mish mash of different rules and requirements making it very confusing for people who move from state to state.  While we appreciate that the practices and procedures related to voting are issues for each individual state to mandate we do think that there should be a minimum requirement to produce a photo ID before being permitted to vote.

  1. Requiring The Production Of Photo ID Does Not Reduce Voter Turn Out

Photo ID does not reduce turnout.
Photo ID does not reduce turnout.

Those who are opposed to the introduction of the requirement to produce photo ID prior to voting often like to claim that this is an unfair imposition, a bureaucratic hassle that represents an insurmountable hurdle to voting.  The requirement, they claim, will make people feel that it is too difficult to vote and therefore reduce voter turnout at elections.  It is also a requirement, they say, that will disproportionately affect turnout amongst the young, the poor and minorities.

At first glance this seems to be a valid point – voting should be easy and quick and anything that stands in the way of that should be eliminated.  In other words we should be making it easier not harder to vote.  In reality, however, these claims are nothing more than hyperbole.  The requirement to produce photo ID has not reduced voter turnout in locations in which it is required.  Research undertaken in Indiana (a state which opponents of voter ID claim has some of the most draconian photo ID requirements in the US) showed that voter turnout actually increased in the elections after the ID legislation was enacted.  Another wider study confirmed the results from Indiana showing that voter ID requirements do not affect voter turnout.

  1. The Requirement To Produce ID Will Not Compromise The Anonymity Of The Vote Itself

Voter Photo ID does not impact anonymity
Voter Photo ID does not impact anonymity

Opponents of the introduction of photo based voter ID like to claim that it will compromise what many believe to be a key tenet of our democracy – the secret ballot.

Current voting systems vary state to state.  Some states number a stub of the ballot which is kept separately so that the number of votes in the ballot box can be checked against the number of stubs.  The stubs prove that a voter has cast their vote but the actual vote itself is completely secret.   Some states do have the number on the ballot itself as well as the stub but this has been declared constitutional by a federal judge has ruled that the constitution of the US does not guarantee a secret ballot.  .

This numbering of ballots is not unusual; in the UK the number of the voting slip is recorded against the name of the individual.  This means that, in theory, it could be possible to track how someone has voted and obviate the anonymity of a vote but this can only be done by certain individuals when mandated by an Election Court under certain specific circumstances.  The system has been in place since 1872 and the secret ballot has never yet been overturned.  It is notable that the UK does not (in the majority of areas) require voters to provide ID in order to vote.

Asking someone to produce photo ID will not make it any easier or any harder for officials (or anyone else) to track how someone has voted, it will not change the status quo at all.

  1. Requiring Photo ID Is Not A De-Facto Poll Tax

Voter Photo ID does not act as a poll tax.
Voter Photo ID does not act as a poll tax.

Another popular complaint against the concept of voter ID requirements is the thought that requiring voters to pay to obtain ID is a de-facto poll tax and that their effect is exactly the same as that of the poll tax used by some Sothern states to prevent poor and black people from casting their votes.  ID they claim, is costly to obtain, and their statements are often backed with scary looking statistics that show large percentages of various minorities that do not have access to photo ID.

This claim is yet more hyperbole.  The reality is that photo ID is required to do a lot of things, to fly, to drive, to buy alcohol, open a bank account or even to access some government buildings, most Americans will, therefore already have some form of photo ID as a matter of course.  It is true that the majority of people who do not have photo ID will be from the more disadvantaged sectors of society but states that require photo ID to vote have put procedures in place to make free photo ID available to everyone.  This provision can be extended nationwide.

Complainants counter these sensible policies with claims that the underlying documents required to obtain the free photo ID are costly but that is not the case.  One of the documents required is a birth certificate, a basic document that everyone needs to access certain services including schooling.  In the event that the proposals for voter photo ID become a federal requirement it should be possible to issue free photo ID through schools as the teachers will be able to verify identity.  This would be quick, simple and ensure that all school leavers have easy access to a free photo ID.

  1. The Requirement For Photo ID Is Not An Imposition Of A Federal Identity Card By The Back Door

Voter ID is not the imposition of a federal ID requirement
Voter ID is not the imposition of a federal ID requirement

If it is not one thing it is another – when opponents to photo voter ID’s complaints about a de-facto poll tax are answered (see above) they come up with another equally bizarre and outrageous complaint.  That requiring everyone to have photo ID (or providing free photo ID) is an attempt to impose a requirement that all Americans have a federal identity card by the back door.

Federal ID cards are not a popular concept.  While some people believe that they will help improve security the majority cherish the fact that America is a country that allows people to walk around without having to identify themselves to the authorities.  Most also believe that national ID cards would increase the potential for abuse of privacy, from government, from individuals and from corporations.

Requiring voters to produce a photo ID to prove they are who they say they are is a very different thing.  It is no different to requiring all people to prove they are who they say they are at border crossings or when entering a government office.  There are no proposals to say that a free photo ID card would be the only acceptable form of photo ID, passports and driving licenses are currently acceptable in states with photo ID requirements and should continue to be so.  There is also no suggestion that the free ID cards would need to be carried at all times and shown to law enforcement officials on request (something which would form a key part of a national identity card scheme).

  1. Voter ID Laws Are Not Partisan

Photo ID for voting applies to everyone equally
Photo ID for voting applies to everyone equally

This is another favorite statement of the anti-photo ID brigade that smacks of yet more hyperbole.  Voter ID laws are partisan they say because they disproportionately impact on the poorer sections of society (see above) and that these people are more likely to vote Democrat.  The voter ID laws are, they claim, a cynical ploy by the Republicans to ensure their support stays high and prevent people voting for their opponents.  They are also, so the claims often go, racially motivated.  The fact that the pace of introduction of such legislation has increased its pace in recent years is attributed not to a desire to improve the security of the poll but rather to a base desire by Republicans to get revenge for the election of Obama as President.

However the laws are not partisan, they are designed to apply to everyone equally, ie a wealthy white who turns up to vote without photo ID would be treated exactly the same as a poor black.  Any concerns about difficulty and costs of access causing inadvertent discrimination can be resolved by the issue of a free photo ID (see above).  In any event partisanship is a poor argument, after all if Democrats are so concerned that they will lose elections because of procedures designed to prevent voter fraud what does that say about the elections they have won!

  1. The Right To Vote Is Qualified, ID Helps Establish The Qualifications Are Met, It Does Not Act As A Bar In And Of Itself

Apathy is the true voter turnout killer. Photo ID requirements are no big deal.
Apathy is the true voter turnout killer. Photo ID requirements are no big deal.

The right to vote is important, as we mentioned in the introduction to this article it is a right that has been identified by major campaigners for equal rights as one of the most important elements of equality.

Nevertheless the right to cast a vote is qualified.  An American citizen is not automatically entitled to participate in a ballot, they have to prove that they have attained the necessary minimum age and the right can be lost through the commission of a crime.  A court has even ruled that there is no constitutional right to a secret ballot (see above).

As such it is not unreasonable to develop legislation that requires people to prove that they are who they say they are before they are entitled to vote.  The requirements to provide a valid photo ID will not prevent someone from exercising their democratic privilege.  Even President Obama has acknowledged that voter ID laws are not responsible for low turnout amongst certain sectors of the population, attributing this phenomenon to apathy amongst those sectors rather than their lack of access to ID.  The Supreme Court agrees with him and have ruled the Texas ID laws (claimed by many minorities and Democrats to be too restrictive and divisive) are constitutional and valid.

  1. The Majority Of American Citizens Are In Favor Of Voter ID

Most Americans support photo ID requirements for voting.
Most Americans support photo ID requirements for voting.

Opponents of voter ID legislation can complain all they like but while they may be vocal they are in a minority of American citizens.  When asked most people responded that they believe voter ID rules are worthy of support.

Why is this?  Surely if the rules are as divisive, restrictive and annoying as the opponents like to claim there should be a majority campaigning against their introduction.  The simple truth is that most Americans are sensible, practical people who understand the need to ensure that the poll is secure and valid.  They value their right to vote and want to protect it and ensure that the power of their right to choose is not diluted by fraud.

Americans, particularly those involved enough in the democratic process to vote in the first place (American voter participation is low) own the necessary photo ID or would be willing to obtain it.  They do not see that it is an impediment to exercising their right to vote.  It is, indeed, noteworthy that voter participation amongst minority communities actually increased following new ID requirements in Georgia, Indiana and Mississippi.

  1. Electoral Margins Are Becoming Increasingly Narrow. It Is Important To Ensure That the Vote Counts Reflect Accurately The Views Of Those Eligible To Vote

Verifying voter identification is a no brainer.
Verifying voter identification is a no brainer.

American Presidential elections are extremely close affairs.  An analysis of election history shows that only four presidents have received more than 60% of the popular vote (Presidents Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Johnson and Nixon).  The split is often much closer and 18 elections returned a president with less than 50% of the vote (including Presidents Lincoln (first election), Wilson, Truman, Kennedy, Nixon (first election) and Clinton).

More recently the 2000 election between George Bush and Al Gore saw a full machine recount across the state and a hand recount in several Florida districts.  In 2012 Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were neck and neck with Obama only pulling ahead towards the end of the election to win with just 3.86% margin.

The 2016 election is expected to be very close and as such it is vitally important that American citizens can have confidence in the probity and accuracy of the electoral process.

  1. Vote Fraud Is A Real Issue – Photo ID Will Help To Combat It

Voter fraud is real and must be prevented. Voter ID is a good start.
Voter fraud is real and must be prevented. Voter ID is a good start.

Those opposed to the imposition of Voter ID often claim that vote fraud is not a big problem.  They claim that it rarely happens and when it does it does not affect the outcome of the election in question.  Voter ID requirements are, they say, a disproportionate response akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

This apologist stance for fraud is nothing short of appalling.  Voter fraud is a real and recognized problem.  In 2008 the question of the legality of Indiana’s voter ID laws was brought before the Supreme Court.  Despite being unable to produce anyone who claimed the new laws were an impediment to their exercising the right to vote the Democrat party and others challenged their constitutionality.  In deciding in favor of the state’s laws the Supreme Court noted that there had been ‘flagrant examples of electoral fraud over the ages and that there was a real risk that such fraud could affect the outcome of elections.

Opportunities for fraud include using the vote of someone recently deceased, someone who has moved state or impersonating someone who has no desire to vote.  In some cases counties have been found to have more listed voters on the electoral roll than voting age residents listed on the census.  While the majority of opponents of Voter ID are democrats complaining about disenfranchisement (see above) but some are willing to look at the situation more honestly.   Former Democrat Congressman Artur Davis has said that voter fraud is a far more aggressive form of voter suppression amongst minorities (in Alabama) than the requirement for Voter ID.

 

2016 is going to be an important election year and the vote is likely to be tight.  Any questions as to the probity of the poll will bring the reputation of American democracy into question both at home and abroad and as such question of scrutiny and security are going to be front line news.  If we want Americans from all sectors of society to be engaged in the democratic process we must make sure that their voices are heard and not suppressed and that they can have confidence in the system.

The right to vote is a cornerstone of our democracy and one that should be protected.  The question of voter ID proposals should not be the issue that it has become, it should be a ‘no brainer’ a simple, sensible decision.  After all more than 100 other democracies require their voters to produce ID so why should it be controversial in the US.  While it is rare voter fraud, when it happens, is a real issue and every time it happens it erodes voter’s faith in democracy.  With electoral margins becoming so narrow it is vital that people can have faith that the voting process is free and fair.  Many states already recognize this and have some form of ID requirement.  States that do require photo ID ensure that it is easy to obtain a free government photo ID.

When analyzed rationally it can be seen that the objections to voter ID rules are nothing more than hysterical hyperbole on the part of (mostly) Democrats who are looking for any excuse to explain the apathy amongst many sectors of their core vote or, in some rare but sinister cases, want to continue their fraudulent practices to ensure that they get support for their candidates that would not otherwise exist.  For these reasons we believe that photo ID should be required to vote in an American election.