Forget voter ID

The April 28 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Indiana’s law requiring voters to present identification before voting has caused a lot of states to rush ahead with legislation doing the same thing. In Nevada, Sen. Barbara Cegavske’s failed 2007 measure to do so may well be revived.

There are a lot of things to think about here.

First, it’s not voters who commit voter fraud. It’s politicians. You don’t rig an election by mobilizing voters to cast illegal votes. You rig an election at the counting end. That’s why the number of cases of voter fraud reported by election officials is usually in one or two digits.

Second, let’s face it—this is another one of those manufactured controversies that concerns the immigrant bashers. But cases of immigrant voter fraud are even more rare than voter fraud generally. What illegal alien would want to draw attention to him/herself by voting? Again, the instances that can be cited are all but nonexistent.

When Cegavske introduced her legislation last year (“A solution without a problem,” RN&R, March 29, 2007), she was doing so because it seemed vaguely to be a good idea. Some poll workers had complained to her that they were unable to challenge people who wanted to vote. For some reason, Cegavske saw this as a bad thing, but she was not able to point to any instances of actual voter fraud in Nevada.

“I talked to poll workers who say they have no idea if the person that comes forward is who they say they are. No checks and balances. This last election, the workers I have known and seen for the past 18 years at my polling place … said they had over 60 percent turnout [of registered voters], the most they have ever seen. They did not know these people and said they could not ask for their ID to verify. I always show my ID when I vote.”

That’s fine for her, and she can continue to make this gesture without using a state law to make it mandatory for the rest of us.

There is a partisan angle to this: Republican leaders believe that polling place obstacles reduce turnout principally among the working poor, racial groups, and the young, groups with a record of voting for Democrats. But election laws should not be used to implement tactics of political parties.

After the Supreme Court last month approved Indiana’s law, there were stories about nuns unable to vote in the Indiana presidential primary. A Missouri native, Lillie Lewis, checked and found that her state has no record of her birth.

In addition, some states got the impression that the court was requiring voter identification, which is not the case—it permitted it as a state option.

Voting is an informal, voluntary, neighborhood-based practice. It should continue in that vein of informality. It’s hard enough to get voters to the polls without erecting another obstacle to discourage them.