Voter Identification

By Robert E. Meyer

Only a few years ago, I never imagined anyone would be opposed to verifying the identity of voters, or that the issue could be so heavily politicized. I would think that any reasonable person should be interested in upholding and improving the integrity of the voting process. So much for being naive.

Typically, the politicization of this issue goes something like this: requiring identification for voting is really just an attempt to suppress or disenfranchise voters of a particular economic class or ideological persuasion. This segment of the population is viewed as less likely to have proper identification credentials, thus more likely to be turned away at the polls if identification requirement become law. To emphasize this point, some form of media is used to personally profile such as person, explaining how their situation could hinder them from voting in the next election.

Such a case study raises certain questions for me. For instance, how does a person without proper identification conduct normal affairs such as check-cashing and other routine tasks that usually require the presentation of valid identification? The counterpoint is that activities such as purchasing alcoholic beverages, boarding a plane, buying prescription medications or driving a motor vehicle aren’t constitutional rights, whereas voting is a constitutionally protected right.

But, if these activities often require proof of identity, how much more closely should the integrity of a civil right such as voting be guarded? And yes, too low a percentage of Americans vote, but that doesn’t provide that the integrity of the process should not receive due diligence. Allowing for lax voting security because voting percentages are already lower than they ought to be, is a classic case of the ends justifying the means.

For the those people where such a handicap to social mobility exists, why aren’t the people objecting to voter identification requirements helping them acquire the documents they lack? One wonders if some people desire that others remain in this hapless situation so that the issue survives as a perpetual political football? Why isn’t the same amount of energy spent on helping people acquire identification, as is spent on protesting the issue and demonizing proponents of voter identification laws? And of course, once someone acquires proper identification documents, they can be used for other purposes besides voting, thus enhancing social mobility as an additional beneficial consequence.

One final question: Why is it always assumed that the people who are supposedly placed at a disadvantage would vote for the more liberal candidate in any given race? I can certainly think of anecdotal exceptions to this presumption, including myself. When I was young and poor, I voted for conservatives because their platform better reflected my own values and sense of fairness.

If we want to play word games, we might denigrate the identification requirements for a host of other activities by using pejorative terminology. For example, showing an identification before boarding a plane becomes a war on the opportunity to travel. Needing identification to buy certain medications becomes a war on public wellness. And how does showing identification establish whether there is a legitimate need in the first place? We could go on with innumerable “war on“ slogans, but I think the point has been made.

The boilerplate claim that voter fraud is uncommon is a red-herring. Simply because there are statistically few prosecutable cases of fraud, it is hardly a good argument to believe that nothing much is going on. If I were to use the rhetorical theatrics of my political opponents, I might call this movement “The war on voter integrity,” and the participants “voter-fraud deniers.”

Back when I was a youth in elementary school, we were constantly reminded that shop-lifting was a serious problem, and that it was responsible for the increased price of merchandise at retail stores. Since only a small number of shop-lifters were apprehended as a percentage of all shoppers coming into the store, was that reason to assume the problem was being purposefully exaggerated? Of course not. Retailers could tell from the shortages of inventory that the shop-lifters who were caught represented only a small portion of the actual criminal activity. Money was spent on store detectives, two-way mirrors, electronic surveillance and hidden cameras, in part to deter future criminal activity.

Suppose you were building a home in a new subdivision. Would you forgo the expense of placing locks on the doors based on the argument that there had never been a burglary in the neighborhood? No. You are trying to prevent a crime from happening, not apprehend the culprit after the crime has occurred. That is why those who contend that voter fraud is not common based only prosecutable instances, are simply looking in the wrong place.

From my perspective, the refusal to legitimize voter identification requirements is to turn your back and close your eyes on the potential for mischief.

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