Brian Goldman | Can I see your photo ID?
The Gold Standard | If you need an ID to get into a bar, you should need one to vote
March 18, 2012, 11:23 pm · Updated March 20, 2012, 12:48 am·
The Gold Standard
Everyone knows that if you want to get into Smokey Joe’s on a Friday night, you’ll need to show an ID.
Last week, Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett signed a bill that would extend this same principle to the ballot box. Starting with the elections this November, you’ll need to flash valid photo identification (don’t worry, PennCards are fine) in order to be able to vote.
It is a highly contentious issue and the bill passed by the most partisan of margins. All PA House Republicans voted in favor, while all House Democrats voted against. One Republican defected to the Democratic caucus, rendering the final roll call 104-88 in favor of the statute.
Not surprisingly, the bill has prompted sharp, hyperbolized rhetoric among politicians and pundits. But if you remove whatever biases you have — admittedly, not an easy task — and try to take an evenhanded look at the issue, it’s really not the sinister voter-suppression Machiavellian plot that cable news would have you believe.
In fact, the concept of mandating voter IDs at the polls was not always such a partisan issue. In 2005, former President Jimmy Carter co-chaired a Commission on Federal Election Reform, which recommended requiring citizens to show IDs at the polls.
“The electoral system cannot inspire public confidence if no safeguards exist to deter or detect fraud or to confirm the identity of voters,” the commission wrote. “Photo IDs currently are needed to board a plane, enter federal buildings, and cash a check. Voting is equally important.”
Not all voters have photo identification, which is why the new PA measure requires that photo identification be distributed free of charge to those who need it.
What is often left out of this discussion, however, is that the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of voter identification laws in 2008.
Writing for a 6-3 majority, former Justice John Paul Stevens — far from the Court’s Thomas/Scalia conservative wing, mind you — wrote that Indiana’s voter identification law, which is similar to the one recently passed in Pennsylvania, was perfectly legal given that “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.”
Another reason why voter ID laws exist is to stem potential fraud.
Fraud is a sticky issue. Some cite the fact that between 2002 and 2007, only 86 people were convicted by the Justice Department for voter fraud, to support their claim that this is a non-issue. Others, like President Carter and his commission, however, argue that while “there is no evidence of extensive fraud,” fraud “could occur, and it could affect the outcome of a close election.”
In 2004, the Orlando Sentinel found that thousands of Floridians voted multiple times in either 2000 or 2002. New York Daily News, in a separate investigation the same year, also discovered that a thousand New Yorkers had voted in multiple states.
Here in Pennsylvania, two counties filed criminal charges regarding false voter registrations in 2009. In Allegheny County alone, six former members of ACORN were convicted of similar charges.
Requiring a valid photo ID at voting booths, is not going to magically remove practices such as voting multiple times and false voter registration.
This requirement, however, will hopefully mitigate these issues and continue to promote faith in the fairness of election results.
The idea that a voter ID law will dramatically suppress voter turnout is baselessly unfounded. Georgia instituted a photo identification requirement in 2005. Since 2004, when no photo ID was required, Hispanic voter turnout has increased 140 percent and 42 percent for African Americans. In fact, under the new law — between 2006 and 2010 — Hispanic turnout has increased 66 percent and African American turnout has increased 44.7 percent.
It’s not a stretch to assume that all of us want to prevent corruption, fraud and other unfair practices from seeping into our elections.
The real question, then, is the solution. Any “solution” that discriminates or systematically disenfranchises any class of citizens — whether minority groups or the elderly — should be rightfully opposed.
A photo identification requirement, thankfully, doesn’t come close to that. It requires the same hand-into- wallet and flick of the wrist maneuver that going to a bar requires. However, instead of being able to buy a beer, you’re able to voice your opinion in an election and ensure that it’s fair.
Brian Goldman is a College senior from Queens, N.Y. His email address is email@example.com. The Gold Standard appears every Monday.