Voter ID laws in Canada vs America

Examining voter ID laws, elections fraud debate in Canadian and US politics

As America’s Democrats try to pin down whether voter suppression, Russian hackers, fake news, or “the antiquated mechanism” of the Electoral College is responsible for the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, Canada continues to publicly muse about reforming its own electoral process, albeit with fewer doomsayers. To ID or not to ID has long divided US party lines. In contrast, Canada has had relatively strict voter ID requirements for the past ten years.

At his final press conference, President Obama declared voter ID legislation a remnant of Jim Crow, the racist laws that kept their toehold in the Southern United States from the 1800s to the 1960s. The former president also claimed that the US was “the only country among advanced democracies that makes it harder to vote.” In fact, most “advanced democracies” require some kind of identification to vote in national elections with the exception of England (but that could also change soon).

It’s no secret that Democrats get more votes from minorities than their Republican counterparts. Minority voters are also disproportionally affected by voter ID laws. (An estimated 25% of voting-age African Americans do not possess a government-issued photo ID.) This is one reason that the issue is so politically charged, with Democrats often slamming voter ID laws as voter suppression tactics by their Republican rivals.

Conversely, Republicans are the most likely defenders of ID laws in the States and argue that they are necessary measures to protect against voter fraud. Yet, investigations have shown that US election fraud is minimal, and more importantly, would likely still occur under the strictest voter ID regimes, begging the question as to the purpose of voter identification laws.

“Election fraud happens. But ID laws are not aimed at the fraud you’ll actually hear about,” says law professor Justin Levitt, who has basically dedicated his career to studying US election practices. Levitt claims to have found only 31 substantiated cases of election fraud in the US.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of the US voter ID debate is that the majority — 80% — of Americans support ID laws, according to a 2016 Gallup poll, as do the majority of non-white respondents. (Of course, irritating telephone surveys have always come with their own set of methodological issues that still, ahem, ring true today.)

Voter ID and the law in the United States

As the nation’s most outspoken civil liberties defender, the ACLU condemns voter ID legislation as an attempt to “deprive many voters of their right to vote, reduce participation, and stand in direct opposition to our country’s trend of including more Americans in the democratic process.”

A total of 32 states had voter ID laws that were in effect for the 2016 election, meaning that voters had to show some form of identification in order to cast their ballot. But despite the outrage that many Democrats expressed over voter ID laws leading up to the elections, the stricter ID requirements were unlikely responsible for their nightmare-come-true that is the country’s 45th presidency.

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