from experts in the field:
John Fund is a columnist for 4HE 7ALL 3TREET *OURNAL S Web
site and the author of 3TEALING %LECTIONS (OW 6OTER &RAUD
4HREATENS /UR $EMOCRACY
A NON-PHOTO ID SYSTEM for voting invites potential fraud. That’s
because many voting rolls are stuffed with the names of dead people
and duplicate registrations—as recent scandals in Washington state and
Missouri involving the activist group ACORN attest.
In Washington state’s disputed 2004 governor’s race, which was
won by 129 votes, the election superintendent in Seattle testified in state court that ineligible
felons had voted and votes had been cast in the names of the dead. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin,
investigators found that in the state’s close 2004 presidential election more than 200 felons
voted illegally and more than 100 people voted twice. In Florida, where the entire 2000
presidential election was decided by 547 votes, almost 65,000 dead people are still listed on
the voter rolls—an engraved invitation to fraud. A New York Daily News investigation in 2006
found that between 400 and 1,000 voters registered in Florida and New York City had voted
twice in at least one recent election.
U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker, who first upheld Indiana’s photo ID law in 2006,
cited a state study that found 99 percent of the voting-age population had the necessary photo
ID. Judge Barker also noted that Indiana provided a free photo ID to anyone who could prove
his or her identity.
Indiana has the toughest voter photo ID law in the country, yet, according to its secretary
of state, Todd Rokita, “there has not been one proven instance of a voter who was unable to
exercise his or her right to vote due to the law.” The law itself helps prevent this, including
provisions to allow voting by those who forget their ID, can’t make it to the polls on Election
Day or have religious objections to being photographed.
Laws tightening up absentee-ballot fraud, such as requiring an accompanying photocopy
of a driver’s license or passport, would be welcome. But, curiously, almost all of the groups
opposing the photo ID law before the Supreme Court either oppose specific efforts to combat
absentee-ballot fraud or are silent on them. C
from experts in the field:
EVERY STATE REQUIRES VOTERS to demonstrate their identities
at the polls, and most recognize a range of ways for voters to do so. If
the push for more restrictive voter identification is successful, eligible
Americans won’t be able to vote at the polls using Social Security or
Medicare cards because those IDs don’t have photos. They won’t be
able to use most photo IDs issued to students or workers because those IDs aren’t issued
by the government. And they won’t be able to use veterans’ or government-employee IDs,
because those IDs don’t have expiration dates. Only passports, driver’s licenses or non-driver
state IDs will do. For most Americans, that won’t present a problem. But 10 to 12 percent of
Americans don’t have these kinds of ID because they don’t drive or travel abroad.
In the presidential primaries in Indiana this year, a group of elderly nuns was turned
away from the polls because they didn’t have the required ID. These women are a perfect
example of those hit hardest by restrictive ID laws: Those without the “right” ID are disproportionately seniors, young people, African-Americans and people with low incomes or dis-abilities. For these Americans, it can be a real burden to pay for the required ID.
The cost of restrictive ID requirements is substantial: the disenfranchisement of millions of Americans. And the benefit is elusive: a marginal increase in protection against a
rare form of voter fraud in which someone tries to vote in the name of another registered
voter at the polls. Studies show that this almost never happens. There are already extensive
legal protections against it, including stiff criminal penalties and fines. The kinds of fraud
that do happen—including fraud using absentee ballots or machine tampering—are not
prevented by requiring polling place ID.
Restrictive voter ID laws put the cart before the horse, demanding specific forms of ID
before ensuring that eligible voters have those IDs. We have to fix our ID system to make
sure that people who don’t have those IDs can obtain them—free of charge and without
hassle and delay—before we even consider making government-issued photo ID a requirement to vote. C
Wendy R. Weiser is deputy director of the Democracy
Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York
University School of Law (WWW BRENNANCENTER ORG).
OCTOBER DEBATE UPDATE:
Should there be a
national speed limit?
Percentage reflects votes
received by October 8, 2008.
SEPTEMBER DEBATE RESULTS:
Should parents be certified to
home-school their children?
YES: 3% NO: 97%
Percentage reflects votes received by
October 8, 2008. Results may reflect
Debate being picked up by blogs.
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