The Case Against ALL Voter I.D. Laws

They are unnecessary, discriminatory, and antidemocratic.

Edward Robson, PhD
Jul 25, 2020 · 4 min read
Photo by Elliott Stallion on Unsplash

ver since the wave election of 2010 gave the Republican Party full control of numerous state legislatures, one agenda many of them have aggressively pursued has been to pass restrictive voter I.D. laws.

The stated reason for requiring voters to prove their identity is to safeguard the integrity of our elections by preventing voter fraud. This seems reasonable — elections can be close, and everybody wants to know that every ballot has been cast by a bona fide citizen of the community.

The stated reason, however, may not be the most important one. It certainly does not explain why it is always the same party agitating for these measures.

High turnout in American elections tends to favor Democrats. It therefore behooves Republicans to keep the turnout low by making it more difficult to vote.

President Trump acknowledged this on Fox News on 3/30/2020 in his comments about the voting provisions in the Democrats’ COVID stimulus bill: “The things they had in there were crazy. They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

I think it’s safe to say that’s an exaggeration. There is no reason to believe the GOP is incapable of nominating candidates who can win honest majorities in fair elections.

But the principle is valid nonetheless. The Republican Party traditionally favors the wealthy and business owners. The Democratic Party champions protections for the poor, minorities, and the working class — a far larger constituency. If everybody voted their interests, which party do you think would win?

1. Voter I.D. laws are unnecessary.

Voter I.D. laws require each voter to prove that they are who they say they are. That prevents voter impersonation — one person voting in another’s place. But despite alarmist rhetoric from right-wing pundits, numerous studies have found in-person voter fraud to be extremely rare, well under one vote in a million.

It is frankly difficult to imagine a situation in which an election could be stolen by in-person fraud. If a dishonest operator were to organize a team of vote-jackers and give each the name of a registered voter to impersonate, how large would that team have to be in number to affect the final tally?

Election fraud does happen. But I.D. laws would do nothing to prevent the types of voting scams that actually have occurred in recent decades, like the harvesting of absentee ballots that invalidated a congressional race in North Carolina in 2018.

2. Voter I.D. laws are discriminatory.

For most white, middle-class voters, showing I.D. is a minor inconvenience. A driver’s license is sufficient in most states that have passed such measures. But millions of registered voters do not drive and have no license. For them, obtaining any of the kinds of identification specified in the new laws can be a major challenge.

The impact of requiring picture I.D. is to make it much more difficult for a poor person to cast a ballot. State-issued I.D. cards may be available, but they are rarely free or convenient to obtain. For a poor person living in a rural area, the burden is substantial. If that citizen has little education or is not a native English speaker, it is even harder.

Republican legislators naturally deny that their intent is to disenfranchise legitimate voters. But many of them know their hopes of reelection will be dashed if too many of their poor or non-white constituents make it to the polls.

3. Voter I.D. laws are antidemocratic.

It is hard to argue (with a straight face) that voter I.D. laws, purges of voter rolls, limits on early-voting days and polling sites, and other tactics popular in “red” states don’t suppress the vote. Republicans argue that such measures are necessary in order to maintain integrity in our elections.

But the right to vote is sacrosanct in a democracy. I would rather take a chance on someone voting who should not, than risk wrongly excluding someone else.

Our criminal justice system is designed with multiple protections for the accused, because we would rather see ten criminals go free than see one innocent person imprisoned or executed. Why don’t we protect the right to vote just as tenaciously?

Legislators who support voter I.D. laws are willing to disenfranchise thousands of legally registered voters, in order to prevent at most a handful of fraudulent ballots being cast.

The constitutional republic that we call the United States of America was meant to be a democracy, defined by the principle of “one person, one vote.” It’s never been a perfect democracy — we had to get past the old elitist thinking that defined “one person” as “one non-enslaved male property-owner” — but by fits and starts we have moved closer to the principle of suffrage for all.

Voter I.D. laws make it harder for large groups of people to be a part of the democratic process that defines us as a nation. We must resist those laws. The right to vote belongs to all of us.


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