Friday, January 25, 2008

Voter ID Laws: Preventing Fraud or Preventing Voting?

The Supreme Court is hearing a case about a law in Indiana requiring citizen's to show a photo ID (specifically one issued by the state or federal government) in order to vote. Advocates of the law say its to prevent voter fraud. If you're required to show a photo ID then you can't impersonate someone and vote, and thus protect the integrity of elections. Opponents say that it would disproportionately affect the poor, the elderly, and the minorities, those least likely to have a photo ID.

I would argue that the Constitution prevents no grounds for striking down such a law. Technically speaking, you have no right to vote for President. First off, we don't elect the president or vice president, we elect electors who elect the President. But the Constitution leaves the method of choosing electors in the hands of the States.

(from Article II, Section 1) Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

If a state wanted to, it could have all its potential electors play Twister until the number of electors a state is apportioned are left standing. Now I'm sure the people of such a state would have objections to that, and the Legislature that implemented that would be voted out, but that's not the point. Now, the Constitution has been amended several times, so let's look at some of the potentially relevant clauses.

(from Amendment XXIV, Section 1) The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax.

(from Amendment XXVI, Section 1) The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

One might say that these clauses show a right to vote for President. No, I think to take this literally it says if one does have a primary for President, or an election for electors for President, that you can't deny them the right to vote because of a failure to pay a poll or other tax. Nor, in an election in a state (for any position, national or local) can the government of the United States or the state prohibit you (if you're 18 years or older) from voting because of age. So again, if they have an election for electors in the Electoral College, then you can't be denied the right to vote because of age. But you don't have right to have an election for electors of the President in which to vote.

So, states choose how the choose their electors for the President. If a state does have an election for those electors, then people 18 years of age or older have the right to vote and a poll tax can't be put in place. Requiring a photo ID is within the power of Indiana's legislature, according to the US Constitution.

That said, I think it is very reasonable for a state to require a photo ID to prove you are who you say you are when voting in order to prevent voter fraud. Some states require IDs with a signature. I quite frankly don't see how that stops voter fraud. It does about as much good as requiring a signature on a receipt when you pay using a credit card. If someone wanted to they could copy your signature. Others require a sworn affidavit that you are who you claim to be if you don't show an ID. That's even better, if I'm committing voter fraud having to lie about who I say I am is definitely going to stop me. Does someone have to break a law before you can try to prevent it from happening?

Some people have objected saying that people in Indiana can mail in an absentee ballot without showing an ID, so why the ID rule when you show up in person. If you're going to commit fraud you would be stupid to show up in person and risk being caught, instead you would just cast an absentee ballot. OK then, get rid of absentee ballots and require if you're going to vote you have to show up in person. Case closed.

Some have objected that there are not cases of this voter fraud taking place. Well, if you don't need a photo ID to vote then how would you know someone is an impostor, and how would you get statistics on voter fraud? The Presidential election in 2000 and 2004 were both close in many states. A few fraudulent votes could tip the balance to another candidate. We need to be able to trust the results of our elections if our democracy is to function. Just take a look at a place like Kenya where the election result was disputed.

Now as far as not having an ID is somehow a tax. A state can set a deadline for voting sometime before an election; you don't have a right to show up on the day of an election and vote without having registered to vote. This implies that a state can require persons to have some intent of voting before an election. Now if you have to take time to register in advance, I think it is not unreasonable to take the time to get a photo ID if you want to vote. Voting is a sacred privilege, and should be taken seriously. If you care enough to vote you should care enough to get a photo ID. These "voting right advocates" are really doing a disservice to minority, elderly, and poor voters by giving them a false hope that they won't need a photo ID. By the time the Supreme Court rules, they will have even less time to get a photo ID before the next election. I read about someone who was born at home and not in a hospital, and may not even have a birth certificate, or at the very least it would cost $50 to get a certified copy in order to get an ID. That's their problem. If $5o in order to vote for the rest of your life isn't worth it, then you don't deserve to vote. Freedom isn't free. I'd have to agree with Justice Kennedy, "You want us to invalidate a statute on the ground that it's a minor inconvenience to a small percentage of voters?"

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