Voter Identification laws: a new barrier to democracy

Voter Identification. Laws, which require citizens to provide some form of identification at the poll booth, have sparked a debate over whether they prevent minorities from voting, or if they are crucial to protecting the integrity of our democracy.

As of August, 31 states enforce voter identification requirements. The majority of these states have Republican-controlled state legislatures. The colors on the map coordinate to the classification of voter identification laws ranging from loose non-photo requirements to strict photo requirements. (Photo courtesy of: Ballotopedia)

As of August, 31 states enforce voter identification requirements. The majority of these states have Republican-controlled state legislatures. The colors on the map coordinate to the classification of voter identification laws ranging from loose non-photo requirements to strict photo requirements. (Photo courtesy of: Ballotopedia)

For most of United States history, polling stations have not required citizens to present identification to vote. However, in the last decade, states have been enacting voter identification laws at an alarming rate. The type of identification required varies state to state. For example, in Alaska, which has loose non-photo voter identification laws, bank statements, utility bills, and hunting licenses are some of the many acceptable forms of identification. However, in Georgia, a state with strict photo identification laws, a driver's license, state id, passport, military ID, or tribal ID are the only acceptable forms of identification. Georgia citizens who do not possess any of these forms of identification must go through the cumbersome process of applying for a voter ID card if they wish to vote.

These laws are designed to protect against voter fraud: people voting under fictitious names, in the names of dead voters, double-voting in more than one state, and voting by individuals who are in the United States illegally.

Theoretically, voter ID laws are an effective way to protect the voting integrity, and the vast majority of Americans agree with this assertion. A Gallup poll found that four out of five Americans support some photo verification to vote. However, a range of studies show that African Americans are up to four times less likely to hold a government-issued ID than white voters.

“In the abstract, voter identification laws are not a bad idea. But in reality, they make it disproportionately harder for lower income citizens to vote who are not in possession of their states’ required ID,” senior Roanan McCaa said.

AP Government teacher Matthew McDermott agreed with McCaa, and posed the question: “why are we making laws that are targeting certain groups? We know that certain groups do and don’t have IDs.”

Another study by the Washington Journal found that out of the over one billion ballots cast in all local, state, and federal elections from 2000 through 2014, there were only 31 documented incidents of voter fraud.

Polls showing the scarcity of documented cases of voter fraud bring up the question of whether states enact voter identification laws as a deliberate attempt to make it harder for minorities to vote (which benefits conservatives in elections as minorities tend to vote liberal), or if they are solely designed to protect against voter fraud.

“I don’t believe they are always enacted with the intention of discriminating against minorities, but they can be very easily be used to do so,” McCaa said.

“We have to admit that we are a country with a history of suppressing the minority vote.” He goes on to pose a measure to combat unfair voter identification laws stating “Any law relating to voter identification should go through some sort of strict federal scrutiny … to make sure that they don’t fall in line with our previous attempt to suppress minority turnout,” McDermott added.

The Supreme Court has recently made several decisions ruling against voter identification laws. In one case that struck down North Carolina’s voter identification laws, the court ruled that the state’s laws “targeted African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

While these cases bring hope that the federal government will take a more active role in the future preventing unfair voting laws, in the meantime, voter ID laws continue to suppress minority voting numbers.

Posted on September 26, 2016 .