In the last few months, as the campaign for the White House gains steam, the spotlight has returned to the slew of Voter ID legislation posed in the last few years. The concept of the legislation is relatively simple: each state is free to determine what type of identification a voter must show before being allowed to cast a ballot in an election. In some state this is as simple as showing something with your name and address such as a recent utility bill or bank statement. In other states this is much stricter and may require the [show] of a valid, non-expired photo-id. The map below is a snapshot of the current legislation in the United States.
On the surface requiring voters to identify themselves at the polls is understandable. The varying levels of ID required could spark some controversy, but it is ultimately up to each state to decide what it deems is most appropriate. However, it is the potential effects of strict ID requirements and the backdrop of this legislation that is creating the controversy around this topic.
In 2011, 20 states introduced legislation that would create voter ID laws where no law currently existed. Another 14 states introduced legislation that would increase the strictness of existing voter ID laws by requiring photo identification. The battle over ID has continued into 2012 as there are still over 30 states with pending voter ID legislation.
According to one source, studies show that as many as 11% of registered voters lack some form of photo identification. This is mostly spurred by higher numbers in certain voter groups including seniors, minorities, the disabled, people of low-income, and students. This isn’t about illegal immigrants sneaking into our polls or people committing election fraud; in fact, voter fraud is exceedingly rare. A report by The Brannan Center for Justice, a public policy and law institute at New York University, details the over-exaggeration of voter fraud. Of the 200 Missouri controversy, the report says:
In some ways, the recent hunt for voter fraud began in Missouri in the 2000 election, the crucible that proved formative for Attorney General John Ashcroft and Senator Kit Bond, among others. Yet despite all the frenzy, the allegations yielded only six substantiated cases of Missouri votes cast by ineligible voters, knowingly or unknowingly, except for those votes permitted by court order. The six cases were double votes by four voters—two across state lines and two within Missouri—amounting to an overall rate of 0.0003%. None of these problems could have been resolved by requiring photo ID at the polls.
It seems there is a general consensus that strict photo-id laws reduce voter turnout but the details are murky. Republicans sight voter fraud and illegal immigrants as reasons to introduce strict laws while the Democratic opposition sights political gain as the true purpose of these laws.
Personally, I couldn’t care less what the reason is or who is making the laws. Voters are already disenfranchised by the political power of Billionaires and Super PACs and apathetic from the partisan quarrels spilling out of every media outlet. With little evidence of rampant voter fraud, any legislation that reduces voter turnout is another kick in the face to the citizens who still care.