Voter ID Laws: Fair

There's a lot of noise being made about how we ought to change voter laws to call for photo ID: that noise isn't just noise, it's wisdom, too.

By Emily Judd

Last year, the South Carolina state legislature passed a strict photo identification law for voters, requiring voters to have a government-issued photo identification card in order to cast a ballot.  However, in order to be implemented, the law must receive pre-clearance from the federal government. On Aug 27, the state of South Carolina took its stand against voter fraud to federal court.

Neighboring states Tennessee and Georgia already have “strict” photo identification requirements.  According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “In the ‘strict’ states, a voter cannot cast a valid ballot without first presenting ID. Voters who are unable to show ID at the polls are given a provisional ballot. If the voter returns to election officials within a short period of time after the election (generally a few days) and presents acceptable ID, the provisional ballot is counted.”

Critics of this rule argue that it discriminates against minorities who are less likely to possess standard photo identification.  They also say the law is unnecessary due to the low number of voter fraud cases.  According to the Republican National Lawyers Association, there were over 300 cases of reported voter impersonation fraud in the past ten years.  This number may seem insignificant but the issue should not focus on the frequency of crime and should take into account the possibility of unreported cases. If voter fraud occurs, we should have laws protecting the election process.

Kira Zalan, associate editor at U.S. News and World Report, says, “There are many thousands of Americans who have the same rights as you and I who do not have the kind of identification that politicians want to require.”  This may be true but this reasoning is not strong enough to somehow excuse the possibility of voter impersonation.  Many citizens are aware of current voter fraud laws because of the the publicity the laws have attracted.   There is still enough time for these people to obtain an acceptable form of government photo identification—a driver’s license or State-issued ID—before this November’s elections.

Obtaining photo identification is beneficial for reasons besides voting.  As the Pennsylvania Attorney General, Linda Kelly, states, “Accurate photo identification, whether in the form of a driver’s license or a non driver identification card, can serve as an entrance key to a great many rights and responsibilities…including but not limited to: the purchase of firearms; the purchase of real estate; the receipt of government benefits; and the ability to obtain lawful employment.” It is likely that citizens without a form of photo identification will benefit from having one, regardless of whether they will need it to vote.

Measures are being taken in states like Tennessee to issue free ID’s to citizens who lack more permanent identification but still want to vote. If applied in every state, such mechanisms would insure that no law-abiding citizen is denied their democratic rights while still creating a defense against fraud.

South Carolina’s case will be decided this fall, before the election. There is the possibility that the case will reach the Supreme Court.

The United States’ dedicatiotn to fair elections is tainted by fraud. As citizens we should support legislation intended to resolve any issue of unfairness, especially before the elections in November.

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