Voter ID is Necessary
The right to vote is not only cherished in America, but a hard fought achievement for many groups of people who have been disenfranchised during our history. Women, African Americans, and other groups have all at some time in our past been denied their right to participate in our self-governing society.
Therefore it is no surprise that some people do a double-take when any measure is put forward which could in any way place obstacles in the way of people voting. And it is in that light that opponents view proposals to require a photo ID to vote: as an unnecessary obstacle to legitimate voting.
This view is understandable, but I believe deeply flawed. In our righteous zeal to ensure than voter disenfranchisement becomes a distant and unpleasant memory, many people have lost sight of the basic fact that voting is a right, but not one that extends to every person who lives in our great state simply because they live here.
Voting is a right the state extends to people who meet certain qualifications, and only those people who meet those qualifications set by law and our constitution. Most of the rules that determine who can vote are uncontroversial: you must be a citizen, an adult above age 18, reside in the community within which you vote, etc. Not just anybody can vote, and that fact is in general uncontroversial.
Proponents of voter ID are simply arguing that those limits actually matter. Only people qualified to vote should actually vote, and the only way to know whether people are qualified is to verify that fact. If we believe, as a political community, that only qualified citizens of that community should participate in our governance, then we should take measures to ensure that this is the case.
Under today’s law, a college student could vouch for his 16 or 17 year-old roommate to vote, and there is no mechanism to ensure that an illegal vote is not cast. In fact, only the common-sense of voting judges would prevent somebody from vouching for a 10 year-old as a legal voter.
Every vote cast by an ineligible voter cancels out the vote of an eligible one—it disenfranchises that person. And unless we come to the conclusion that everybody in the world is eligible to vote in our elections, we will need a mechanism to ensure that all people who vote are eligible.
All the arguments in the world that claim that voter fraud doesn’t happen in Minnesota are absurd on their face: how could we possibly know, given the fact that enforcement of our voting laws in nearly impossible? We have no idea right now how many ineligible people vote, because we don’t check for eligibility.
Imagine if we took all police off the roads, and then claimed that nobody in Minnesota goes above the speed limit—using the lack of speeding tickets as evidence of that fact. Everybody would immediately see that the claim was absurd. Yet that is the situation we face today when it comes to voter fraud. There is almost no way to detect it, so lack of prosecutions points to lack of available evidence, not lack of fraud.
Everybody knows that voting is a valuable right—people who have been disenfranchised have spilled blood to reclaim their right to vote. Given that fact, it is absurd to suggest that others, not eligible to vote, would never consider voting illegally if they could get away with it. Some people surely would, and given the lack of a mechanism to enforce eligibility requirement, voter fraud almost certainly happens. To suggest otherwise is to make the claim that voting is not valuable enough to break the law even when getting caught is almost impossible.
I take opponents at their word when they claim that they are trying to protect the franchise for eligible voters who fear being turned away from the polls if they forget their ID; that is a legitimate concern. But proponents of voter ID should take seriously the concerns of the public and legislators who believe that participating in elections should be limited to those eligible to vote, lest legitimate voters be disenfranchised.
In today’s environment many voters are genuinely concerned that their votes are being cancelled out by illegitimate voters, and there is no mechanism to ensure that their fears aren’t legitimate. Is it really so much to ask that basic tools are put in place to ensure that all voters are in fact eligible?
David Strom is a fellow at the Minnesota Free Market Institute at Center of the American Experiment.