Voter ID is a Sensible Precaution

COMMENTARY Election Integrity

Voter ID is a Sensible Precaution

Aug 6, 2011 2 min read
Hans A. von Spakovsky

Election Law Reform Initiative Manager, Senior Legal Fellow

Hans von Spakovsky is an authority on a wide range of issues—including civil rights, civil justice, the First Amendment, immigration.

"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 voter registrations, double-voting by individuals 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 public 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 the rather obvious 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 as well as election results in Georgia and Indiana in 2008 and 2010.

In fact, minority turnout increased more dramatically in Georgia and Indiana with voter ID than they did in some states without photo ID. State Sen. Harold Metts proudly cosponsored 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."

Opponents of Georgia and Indiana's voter ID laws filed lawsuits claiming that huge numbers of state residents would be "disenfranchised." Those claims were thrown out by the courts because, as an Indiana federal District Court observed, "Despite apocalyptic assertions of wholesale voter disenfranchisement," opponents could not find any registered voters who would be prevented from voting.

In Georgia, the NAACP, a plaintiff in the case, could not produce a single member who would be unable to vote because of the ID requirement.

As Sen. Metts of Rhode Island said, "In this day and age, very few adults lack one of the forms of identification that will be accepted, and the rare person who does can get a free voter ID card."

The right to vote is one of our most cherished rights as Americans. Voter ID is required to prevent unscrupulous individuals from casting fraudulent ballots.

For Sen. Metts, supporting voter ID is a matter of principle. "I am more interested in doing the right thing and stopping voter fraud," he said. "Hesitation based on potential ramifications of what may or may not happen at the expense of the integrity of the system is no longer an option."

It is time for lawmakers in every state to stop hesitating and do the right thing: Pass voter ID laws that protect the integrity of that cherished right.

Hans von Spakovsky is a legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

First moved on the McClatchy News Wire service