August 1, 2011

August 1, 2011 | Commentary on Legal Issues, Rule of Law

Are Voter-ID Laws Needed? Yes, They Protect Election Integrity

"Requiring identification at the polling place is a reasonable request to ensure the accuracy and integrity of our elections." So said Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee - an independent - as he signed his state's new voter-ID law on July 6, making Rhode Island the seventh state this year to pass a common-sense requirement that voters present valid identification before casting their ballots.

Polling shows that a substantial majority of Americans from all racial and ethnic backgrounds agree it's the right thing to do.

Voter ID can prevent impersonation fraud, voting under fictitious registrations, double-voting by people registered in more than one state and voting by undocumented immigrants.

Opponents suggest there is no voter fraud, or at least not enough to worry about. But historians cite many instances of voter fraud on a scale sufficient to determine the outcome of close elections.

A 2010 election in Missouri that ended in a one-vote margin of victory included 50 votes cast illegally by citizens of Somalia. A 1996 congressional race in California was almost overturned by hundreds of votes illegally cast by noncitizens. A 1984 grand jury in Brooklyn revealed a widespread, 14-year conspiracy that cast thousands of fraudulent votes through impersonation fraud in state and congressional elections.

The bottom line: Voter fraud has been and continues to be a serious problem. The U.S. Supreme Court recognized this fact in its 2008 ruling that upheld Indiana's voter-ID law.

Voter-ID laws also maintain confidence in the integrity of elections.

Rhode Island Secretary of State Ralph Mollis noted that "the perception that identity theft could occur at the polls weakens the public's faith in the fairness of our elections." He added that "voting should be at least as secure as everyday tasks like renting a car or getting a library card that routinely require ID."

The claim that voter ID "suppresses" the turnout of minority voters is refuted by academic studies and election results in Georgia and Indiana in 2008 and 2010.

In fact, minority turnout increased more dramatically in Georgia and Indiana after voter ID than they did in some states without photo ID. State Sen. Harold Metts co-sponsored Rhode Island's voter-ID law noting that "as a minority citizen and senior citizen I would not support anything that I thought would present obstacles or limit protections."

Hans A. von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission, is a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Hans A. von Spakovsky Manager, Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow
Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies

First moved on the McClatchy News Wire service