Protecting Elections Without Suppressing Votes: A Look at Voter ID Laws

This is an IJR Red reported opinion response to IJR’s original investigative piece, “Multiple States Face Voter Suppression Crises as High-Stakes Elections Loom.” To see a perspective from the other side of the aisle, you can find the IJR Blue reported opinion response here.

Voter suppression has been a prominent issue in the 2018 midterms, with states like Georgia and North Dakota bringing the issue to the surface.

As IJR reported, the two states both have serious voter suppression issues amplified by the fact that both states have close races that could be decided by a handful of votes

At the heart of both states’ voter suppression scandals are voter identification laws.

North Dakota and Georgia

In North Dakota, new voter identification laws require a street address to be listed on the identification card used to vote. This was problematic for individuals who only have a P.O. box listed as an address.

While many feared this could disproportionately impact Native American voters, a nonprofit stepped in and helped more than 2,000 voters get free IDs with the proper address listed.

In Georgia, voter ID laws require that all registration forms have an exact match between the name and the social security number provided to vote. Because of mismatched information, several registrations were put on hold.

Some people, however, feared that Republican candidate for governor and current Secretary of State Brian Kemp may be using this law to suppress votes against his opponent.

All of this controversy has brought voter ID laws back into the public discourse.

Pros and Cons of Voter ID Laws

Voter ID laws tend to shake out two arguments. Those in favor of voter ID laws believe the laws help to ensure that only eligible voters have a say in elections.

These laws are often discussed in terms of preventing felons and illegal immigrants from voting, but they also ensure that people living outside a certain district or state do not sway elections in an area they do not reside in.

Those who argue against voter ID laws fear that the regulations will prevent vulnerable populations such as the elderly or the impoverished from voting because they may not have the means to get an ID. As the Washington Post points out, minority groups are disproportionately impacted by voter ID laws.

Another argument used by people against voter ID laws is that the laws are not necessary because there is not widespread voter fraud. The Heritage Foundation states that there are less than 1,200 cases of proven voter fraud in the United States.

This number only includes cases where an individual was found guilty for voter fraud. It is much more difficult to count those who get away with voter fraud. For example, there are many instances of people casting ballots long after they had died. Still, that number is relatively small.

Still, this is an issue of election integrity and for some, one illegal vote is too many.

Voter ID Laws and Voter Suppression

When it comes down to overall numbers, there isn’t a connection between strict voter ID laws and a suppressed voter turnout, as the Washington Post found.

For a great comparison of this, look at Minnesota and Wisconsin.

According to 24/7 Wall Street, Minnesota and Wisconsin are ranked first and second, respectively, in voter turnout with both states getting over 70 percent turnout.

Minnesota has some of the most relaxed voter laws in the nation. Voters are not required to show any documentation to vote, they can register on election day, and early voting starts six weeks prior to the election.

Wisconsin, on the other hand, has some of the strictest voter laws in the nation. They require photo identification and have been a regular target for anti-voter ID law hit pieces.

Yet, Wisconsin still has the second highest turnout in the nation. Clearly, these strict voter ID laws are not resulting in large-scale suppression in the state when they outrank everyone but their western neighbor in turnout.

Still, it is important to ensure that every eligible voter has access to the polls.

There are ways of mitigating the impact of voter ID laws by providing more time for voters including offering early voting and same-day registration, both of which are available in high-turnout states like Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The data showing that voter ID laws suppress the general voter turnout doesn’t exist but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t important to ensure that the laws are transparent.

Community involvement in voting will always an important part of democracy. Whether it is reminding others to register to vote or assisting them with acquiring an ID, resources are available for those who want to find them.

Americans Participation in Democracy

One important thing to note about voter participation in the United States is that many people don’t care enough to vote. Only three-in-five Americans voted in 2016 and several studies have shown that something as simple as a rainy day can keep people from voting.

As every pro-voter ID pundit will say, Americans need photo IDs to board a plane, buy a drink, and drive a car. Requiring that voters put forward the same effort to participate in democracy isn’t a big ask.

What do you think?

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