Are Voter ID Laws Wrong?

In 2008, the Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s voter ID law, in a 6-3 decision.  It held that the burden of requiring voters to have a state ID was offset by the benefit of reducing the risk of fraud.  Voter ID laws have been a continuing source of tension between the two parties in the United States.  Today, the Obama administration Justice department, led by Eric Holder, blocked a South Carolina voter ID law from going into effect, calling it discriminatory.

Voter ID

This year, eight states have passed new photo-ID laws, including Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.  Some states have a strict photo-ID law, where a voter must show a photo-ID in order to vote, or must present a photo-ID within several days of voting.  Other states have a photo-ID requirement, but are not as strict.  In these states, a voter with a photo-ID can vouch for a voter that doesn’t have a photo-ID, or they can sign an affidavit attesting to their identity. 

Viewpoint 1: Voter ID Laws Discriminate Against the Poor

Opponents of voter ID laws say that they disenfranchise certain voting groups.  Since these voting groups tend to vote for Democrats, the opposition to voter-ID laws tends to come from Democrats.  Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) has said that voter-ID laws are “a deliberate and systemic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.”  These opponents of the new laws say that getting a state-issued ID can be costly in some cases, even though most laws require that the ID be free to the person to which it is issued, and they say that the new laws amount to a poll tax on these voters.

The ACLU is suing the State of Wisconsin over its new voter-ID law, saying that the documents required to get such an ID card can be expensive.  One plaintiff in the case, Ruthelle Frank, said that it would cost her at least $200 to get a state-issued ID, because it requires a copy of her birth certificate, and her birth certificate misspells her maiden name, which would cause problems in getting the free state ID.

Robert Brandon, the president of Fair Elections Legal Network, says that voting rights have been curtailed in 2011:

“Over the past year we have seen numerous attempts by legislatures across the country to pass laws that will make it harder for seniors, youth, people with disabilities, low-income workers, and minorities to access the ballot box. These cynical, anti-democratic tactics that could disenfranchise millions include shortening early voting periods and eliminating them altogether on the weekends before elections, ending Election Day registration, placing onerous restrictions on community-based voter registration drives, and requiring photo identification that many do not have or cannot afford.”

Viewpoint 2: Voter ID Laws Maintain the Integrity of Voting

However, 70% of likely voters say that voter ID laws don’t discriminate, according to a Rasmussen poll conducted between December 18-19.  Many voters are miffed that they don’t have to show a photo ID when voting.  Cullen Werwie, a spokesman for Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, told the Wall Street Journal, “Requiring photo identification to vote helps ensure the integrity of our elections.”

Rep. Artur Davis, who represented Alabama’s 7th congressional district until 2010, when he ran for governor, says fraud is rampant in districts like his:

“The most aggressive contemporary voter suppression in the African-American community is the wholesale manufacture of ballots at the polls and absentee, in parts of the Black Belt.  Voting the names of the dead, and the nonexistent, and the too mentally impaired to function cancels out the votes of citizens who are exercising their rights.”

In the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision, they said that the burden on voters were limited to a small percentage of the population, and were offset by the state’s interest in reducing fraud.  Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, said,

The relevant burdens here are those imposed on eligible voters who lack photo identification cards that comply with SEA 483. Because Indiana’s cards are free, the inconvenience of going to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, gathering required documents, and posing for a photograph does not qualify as a substantial burden on most voters’ right to vote, or represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting. The severity of the somewhat heavier burden that may be placed on a limited number of persons—e.g., elderly persons born out-of-state, who may have difficulty obtaining a birth certificate—is mitigated by the fact that eligible voters without photo identification may cast provisional ballots that will be counted if they execute the required affidavit at the circuit court clerk’s office. Even assuming that the burden may not be justified as to a few voters, that conclusion is by no means sufficient to establish petitioners’ right to the relief they seek.”


I think everyone would agree on two things: first, that a legitimate voter’s right to vote should not be curtailed; and second, that voter fraud should not be allowed to happen.  The debate is over the balance of these two values.  Republicans are wary of the Democrats’ motivations, saying that Democrats are relying on voter fraud to get their votes (see Chicago, Illinois).  They agree with Artur Davis that voter fraud is real, and must be addressed.  Democrats are wary of Republicans’ motivations, saying that Republicans merely want to take votes away from the Democrats.

I tend to think that voter fraud is a more rampant problem than voter disenfranchisement, and to agree with the Supreme Court when they say that requiring voters to have a photo ID is a reasonable requirement.  Black and Hispanic voting has actually gone up in states that have implemented a voter ID law, instead of down, as the Democrats have charged.  In the 2006 midterm election, before Georgia implemented a voter ID law, black turnout was 42.9%; in the 2010 midterm election, after the law was implemented, black turnout rose to 50.4%.  I attribute the rise to the voters’ increased confidence that their vote counted, and a confidence that voter fraud was being addressed.

Discussion Question: What do you think about voter ID laws?  Do you support or oppose them?  Why?

  • Broc Middleton

    I wasn’t going to post a response until our other discussion regarding the payroll tax holiday was over but you seemed to have moved on, so…
    You state a few times in your post that voter fraud is a real problem, could you provide some statistics to show that? Perhaps how many people have been convicted of VOTER FRAUD in, let’s say, the last decade?  Keep in mind we are not discussing registration fraud those are separate laws, and while they are similar, are not the same issue. Also you did not address voter registration in your post. However you DID stated “I tend to think that voter fraud is a more rampant problem than voter disenfranchisement…” I would like to see some evidence of this more rampant problem. 

    • Robert Ewoldt

      Are you making the argument that showing a photo ID to vote disenfranchises voters?

      I just want to check to see where you fall currently, before offering evidence.

    • Robert Ewoldt

      In terms of registration fraud… if a person fraudulently registers to vote, and then goes in to vote under that name, does that make it NOT voting fraud, because the actual voting was legitimate, but the registration was fraudulent?

      My point is: registration fraud leads to voting fraud.

      • Broc Middleton

        We have laws which regulate voter registration to ensure it is done as accurately as possible.  Organizations and people who violate those laws prosecuted accordingly but that is NOT voter fraud which you stated is a more rampant problem than voter disenfranchisement,  I am  just asking for evidence to back up that claim. 

    • Robert Ewoldt

      Also, let me say that I hope we agree with the first part of my conclusions: legitimate voters should not be prohibited from voting, and illegitimate voters should NOT be allowed to vote. Can we agree on that?

      • Broc Middleton

        Yes we agree on that limited basis

    • Robert Ewoldt

      Here’s an interesting article by The Hill in March 2011… there was a study done by the State of Colorado, and it found that there were 12,000 non-citizens that were registered to vote (registration fraud), of which around 5,000 voted in the 2010 election (voting fraud) in which Michael Bennet (D) narrowly defeated Ken Buck (R).

      Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-TX), in congressional hearings on this study, said that it was “impossible to provide precise numbers” on how many people who were registered to vote in the state were not citizens. He asked Colorado’s secretary of state Scott Gessler, if he would have pursued court cases against such illegal registrations.

      “Gessler responded that the goal of the study was to expose voter registration issues and pursue administrative avenues to resolve them.
      “‘We don’t have a screen for citizenship on the front end when people register to vote,’ he said.”
      So, some questions that this article/study raise for me:

      1. If Colorado identified 12,000 non-citizens on the voter registration rolls, how many non-citizens are there across the country? Extrapolated by
      population, that’s probably about 733,000 non-citizens registered to vote
      in the United States.
      2. If Colorado estimates that 5,000 non-citizens voted in the 2010
      election, how many non-citizens voted across the country? About 305,000.
      3. If Colorado doesn’t have a check during registration to determine if
      someone’s a citizen, do you think that they should? Do you think that all
      states should check citizenship when a voter registration comes in?

      • Broc Middleton

        So is the problem with voter registration of voter fraud? 

        “Gessler responded that the goal of the study was to expose voter registration issues and pursue administrative avenues to resolve them. ”

        • Broc Middleton

          I believe Bill Clinton said in “Back to work” you have to ask the right questions to get the right answers. 

        • Robert Ewoldt

          I think it’s both. You need to (a) confirm that the person registering is legitimate, and then (b) make sure the person voting is actually the person registered. You’re nipping in the bud both registration fraud AND voter fraud.

          Of course, you need to do it in a way that legitimate voters are not hindered from voting or registering to vote, but over 700,000 illegitimate registrations and 300,000 illegitimate voters in the U.S. is unacceptable, in my opinion.

          Do you agree?

          • Broc Middleton

            Those numbers sound big 700,000 and 305,000, but in reality that’s 1% of the reported population.  1% error isn’t that big of an issue for me BUT if that is an big problem for other people I would support improving the process to eliminate those cases of fraud BUT not in a way which disproportionately  impacts certain groups.


          • Robert Ewoldt

            In an era where more and more elections are decided by under 1,000 votes, I would think it would be more concerning to you. President GW Bush won by 537 votes in Florida. That was less than 0.01% of the vote in Florida (out of 5.8 million votes in Florida in 2000).

            Other large elections that were decided by few votes:

            – 2008 Alaska House race – 1 vote
            – 2008 Minnesota Senate race – 312 votes
            – 1994 Connecticut House race – 21 votes
            – 2005 Virginia AG race – 323 votes
            – 2004 Montana House race – 2 votes
            – 2002 Colorado House race – 121 votes
            – 2000 Washington Senate race – 2,229 votes

            These are just the major races that have been decided by a few votes. In state elections, where many races only have a total of 25,000 votes cast, each of those 6,000 non-citizen votes (per state) actually count for a lot more.

          • Broc Middleton

            Do we know HOW those illegitimate voters casted their votes? What I mean is, was there a trend to whether they voted more toward one party over another, without knowing that the numbers you posted are meaningless.  I wont say NEVER but it seems highly unlikely that you will ever remove ALL fraud from the process, so races that are close are just going to have to deal with it.  However, as I said before if people want to focus on this as an issue I would be glad to come up with some solutions that don’t impact some groups more than others.  I simply don’t see this as a pressing issue right now in our current political climate. 

          • Robert Ewoldt

            Snarky answer: well, if someone’s voting for a dead person, then they have no morals. People with no morals tend to be Democrats :)

            Serious answer: we don’t know HOW they’re voting, but we know that they ARE voting, which is serious enough. We could have a significant number of people now elected that shouldn’t be in office, due to fraudulent voting. The Democrats seem to think that most of these fradulent voters are Democrats, since they are the ones fighting reforms, but I don’t know. Perhaps they are, perhaps they aren’t. Let’s fix the problem.

            I think we agree on this issue, though you don’t think it’s an urgent issue while I do.

          • Broc Middleton

            Yes, I do not dispute the existence of a problem, I simply disagree with some of the republican solutions to the problem and how severe Republicans content the problem truly is.    

  • Jimbarstow50

    Bob – regarding voter fraud check out

    as a teacher for 35 years I can assure that ignorance and bigotry are much much more common than
    conspiracy. Really look at the federal and state stastistics.

    • Robert Ewoldt

      If voter fraud isn’t a problem, as the Brennan Center asserts, then it shouldn’t be a problem for people to provide ID to vote, while adding a certain amount of integrity to the voting system, right?