Head to Head: Should California voters have to show photo ID in order to vote?

Published: Thursday, Sep. 6, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 13A
Last Modified: Thursday, Sep. 6, 2012 - 10:07 am

THE ISSUE: Before 2006, no U.S. state required voters to show government-issued photo ID at the polls in order to vote. Since then many states have passed such laws. According to studies by the Brennan Center for Justice, about 10 percent of voting-age Americans today do not have a driver's license or other state-issued photo ID.

Should California voters have to show photo ID in order to vote?

Pia Lopez: No

No state before 2006 required voters to show photo ID to vote because individuals showing up at the polls claiming to be someone else and trying to vote under that person's name was a non-issue.

States required registered voters to state their name and address to a precinct officer and sign the roster of voters before getting a ballot. That system works.

In a report published Aug. 12, News21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, found only 10 cases of alleged in-person voter fraud in the states since 2000. In a nation of 146 million registered voters, these are isolated incidents that have no bearing on election results. California had one of the 10 – Gary Gahn in San Diego County in 2002.

So why did voter ID emerge as a cause in 2006?

McClatchy newspapers traced the crusade to Karl Rove in an April 2006 speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association, as a strategy to affect voting in battleground states. The conservative, corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, began peddling "model" voter ID legislation, including in California, though such bills have stalled here.

The cynical strategy is clear. Go after potential voters who move a lot – and thus don't have a current address on their driver's license or other ID – or who are poor or elderly, and don't drive.

The big target is young voters who have moved away from their parents' home – such as students attending college. They should be able to vote at the polls where they live and where local laws affect them, a basic right.

One study found that less than 3 percent of Wisconsin students have driver's licenses listing their current address. They can buy a beer, get through security at an airport or get into the Republican and Democratic party conventions with those licenses. But under many state voter ID laws, they wouldn't be able to vote, a basic right.

They have student IDs, but Pennsylvania, Kansas, Wisconsin and Texas and others have tried to limit or ban the use of student IDs as voter identification, too. This is about vote suppression, pure and simple.

In Texas, a court recently threw out a photo ID law because it disproportionately affected poor and elderly people without a driver's licenses who would have to travel long distances without public transportation, produce documents that cost money and take time off from work, due to offices being closed on the weekend and after 6 p.m.

The irony is that these people could vote by mail without showing ID.

Requiring photo ID to vote at the polls is a solution in search of a problem, aimed at discouraging certain kinds of potential voters – young, old and poor.

Pia Lopez is an editorial writer at The Bee.

Ben Boychuk: Yes

Because we live in an age of many ironies, the Democrats assembled in North Carolina this week had to present a photo ID to receive credentials for the privilege of hearing party stalwarts denounce Republicans for supporting voter ID laws, among other offenses against women, minorities and independent voters living in swing states.

As the Charlotte 2012 website helpfully explains, if you are walking around "restricted areas" of town during the convention, you'd better have a "standard issue government ID" handy.

Another irony: Although it's true Karl Rove took up the cause of voter ID in 2006, and ALEC began touting such laws around the same time, they didn't just conjure the idea at some shadowy Koch-funded conference. Rather, they could point to a 2005 report by the Bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform, sponsored by American University and led by former President Jimmy Carter and ex-Secretary of State James Baker, two elder statesmen not well known for their advocacy of vote suppression.

The Carter-Baker Commission concluded: "Our electoral system cannot inspire public confidence if no safeguards exist to deter and detect fraud or to confirm the identity of voters."

To that end, the panel recommended that states pass voter ID laws not unlike those enacted subsequently in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana and 25 other states.

Fact is, properly drafted voter ID laws are perfectly constitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union challenged Indiana's law, taking the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007. In a 6-3 decision, the justices flatly rejected the ACLU's claims that such laws put too great of a burden on voters and do little or nothing to discourage fraud.

Yet another irony: States with voter ID laws have taken pains to ensure citizens who need valid identification can get it, free of charge.

Pennsylvania's law, which Pia singles out, recently withstood a state-level challenge from the ACLU. And just this week, the U.S. Justice Department cleared New Hampshire's law, which lets voters without acceptable ID cast ballots as long as they sign an affidavit and have their picture taken at the polling place.

A final irony: Pia is correct that voter ID laws wouldn't prevent absentee ballot or vote-by-mail fraud. That simply means policymakers would do well to worry themselves less with making voting convenient and more with securing the ballots before, during, and after election day.

Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. (www.city-journal.org/california)

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