Voter ID (identification) is a way to protect a person’s right to vote. No citizen should be prevented from exercising this basic right, but it is also the duty of governing officials to ensure that valid votes are cast so that the results of an election are representative of the desires of the community.
Laws that require registered voters to show some form of official identification follow specific rules that ensure the validity of each ballot cast. Some jurisdictions even require absentee ballots to have an ID shared as part of the process. When someone can access this resource without charge, then it can ensure the validity of an election without restricting that person’s access to their voting rights.
The problem with many voter ID laws is that they serve as a poll tax without being called one. 34 states currently have identification requirements, while 7 have strict photo ID laws. With official forms of identification costing more than $100 in some areas, it can be costly to exercise this right.
These are the voter ID pros and cons to review to see if there is a place for compromise in this debate.
List of the Pros of Voter ID
1. Voter ID laws provide a reliable form of identification to use.
When there are voter ID laws in place that create specific requirements for an election, then it provides all individuals within that district or state with an opportunity to receive a reliable form of identification. This paperwork makes it possible to apply for jobs, provide evidence of age or address, and several other benefits that are useful in our daily lives. You can even show this document to a lender as a way to verify you are who you say you are.
“Only American citizens should vote in American elections,” said President Donald Trump in a 2018 rally in North Carolina. “Which is why the time has come for voter ID, like everyone else. You know, if you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card.”
2. It includes several identifying features for accuracy.
When someone applies for a voter ID, then it can provide several different identifying features for the individual that can provide them with a variety of benefits. The most common option included with this document is a photograph, but it can also include a signature, their fingerprints, and personal information that provides poll workers with a greater assurance that the individual has the right to vote. This structure reduces the potential for fraud because the ID can screen out someone who attempts to steal another person’s identity to cast a fraudulent ballot.
3. This legislation can reduce the chances of voting multiple times.
When there is a voter ID law present in a community, then poll workers can document who comes to cast a ballot. This legislation can also mark absentee or mail-in ballots that were already filed so that a second ballot is not cast from an in-person vote. Some people may not remember that they have already voted, so they might arrive in person without intending to cast multiple votes. By having this structure in place, it becomes possible to reduce accidental and purposeful manipulation of the system.
4. It can identify the voting locations for each individual.
When voters first move to an area, they may not know where their voting location is to cast their ballot. Voter ID laws can indicate to the individual where they need to be so that they can vote in the next election. It can also facilitate voting in areas where someone may not be known because it shows evidence of residency. Even though it can be an expense in some situations, the outcome of surety is a benefit that many are willing to pay to ensure that each vote is accurate in every election.
5. There are symbolic benefits to consider with a voter ID.
Although there are several concrete advantages to consider with a voter ID law, there are some symbolic ones to review as well. When a voter has possession of their identification, then it conveys a feeling of pride. They are holding in their hands tangible evidence that shows they have the right to vote. When money isn’t an issue, then this ID feels like an investment that can continue to pay benefits.
6. Voter IDs can work with other forms of identification.
Communities that follow voter ID laws often use this requirement with their existing identification options to streamline the registration process. One of the most common methods of this advantage is to register someone to vote when they earn or renew their driver’s license. You can register someone when they go in for other forms of qualifying ID as well. That reduces the cost of printing new cards for everyone while still providing the additional identification resources that work to combat fraud in the community.
7. It protects the value of the votes for everyone who casts a ballot legally.
“A voter ID requirement strengthens voters’ rights by protecting the votes of all who vote legally,” writes Matthew Rousu, Professor of Economics at Susquehanna University for Forbes. “When voter fraud occurs, it dilutes and weakens the votes of all law-abiding voters. One could make a reasonable argument that by not forcing identification and encouraging fraud, you are violating the promise of one person, one vote.”
By requiring a voter ID, then you can ensure the integrity of an election. Although you cannot exclude adverse influences on that person so that their vote might change in abnormal ways, you are still protecting their right to cast a ballot.
8. A reduction in voting behaviors cannot always be attributed to voter ID laws.
When comparing the results of the 2016 election in Wisconsin compared to 2012 results, there was a significant reduction in the number of ballots cast. Was that because of the new voter ID law in the state? Or was it because there where changes to the mobilization of campaigns and the absence of President Obama’s influence? It is easy to blame the presence of a voter ID law for suppression or vote reduction, but there are multiple reasons why some people don’t show up during a specific election.
In a review of voter ID laws, Benjamin Highton noted that there are “a small number of studies employing suitable research designs and they generally find modest, if any, turnout effects of voter identification laws.”
List of the Cons of Voter ID
1. It deprives people of their right to vote if they don’t carry “correct” identification.
There are more than 30 million people in the United States that do not currently have a photo ID that was issued by their local governing authority. That means about 11% of the current population does not have the right to vote if there are strict laws in place unless they can find the money to pay for this identification. Even though the goal of this legislation is to ensure security and accuracy at the ballot, it excludes 1 in 10 voters from even casting an absentee ballot.
2. Obtaining a voter ID is costly for people, even if the identification is free.
Even if the local government offers a qualifying voter ID for free, there are several costs that people must pay to ensure that they will be issued this document or card. You might need to pay for a birth certificate, obtain other underlying documents, and then travel somewhere to have your application processed. The combined cost of the travel expenses, waiting time, and document fees can be up to $175 per person.
When a family is living at or below the poverty line, trying to find an extra $350 in the budget can be difficult. That figure could represent an entire month’s worth of groceries. If you live in a rural area, these costs are even higher. Some people in rural Texas must travel over 170 miles to reach their nearest issuing office.
3. The presence of voter ID laws reduces voter turnout.
A GAO study conducted in 2014 found that the presence of strict photo ID laws can reduce the levels of voter turnout by up to 3%. That means there are tens of thousands of votes missing from the overall tally because of these laws. Since voter ID legislation impacts poor families most often, there tend to be fewer Democratic votes in each district when these rules are present. That means the presence of identification laws acts more as a political tool in some situations than a legitimate method of making the voting process more secure.
“Different laws require different kinds of ID,” writes Dan Hopkins for FiveThirtyEight. “In Wisconsin and Virginia, only a photo ID will pass muster. In Ohio and Arizona, identification without a photo – like a utility bill – will suffice.”
4. Minorities are disproportionally impacted by voter ID laws.
Minority voters are more likely to lack a necessary voter ID than those who are in the majority. Up to 25% of African-Americans in the United States who are of voting age lack the government-issued identification they need to vote. The same can be said for just 8% of people from Caucasian descent.
Considering the fact that many states exclude forms of identification in a discriminatory manner, the result tends to be a reduction in the voice of the minority in each election. Texas allows a concealed weapon permit for voting, but it will not accept a student ID card. North Carolina prohibited public assistance identification and state employee ID cards, which were disproportionally held by African-American voters until the laws were struck down. Even Wisconsin permitted an active-duty ID, but not one from the VA.
5. Voter ID laws are enforced in discriminatory ways as well.
Research from MIT and Caltech found that minority voters are questioned more frequently about their voter ID than white voters, even if the documentation they present is accurate and legal. The University of California at San Diego corroborated this research by analyzing certified votes across all states after the implementation of voter laws in several elections.
Their findings are clear. “Strict photo identification laws have a differentially negative impact on the turnout of Hispanics, Blacks, and mixed-race Americans in primaries and general elections,” was the conclusion of the research.
6. In-person fraud cases are exceptionally rare at the ballot box.
There are very few cases where someone misrepresents who they are when reporting to their local precinct to vote. Since 2000, there have only been 31 credible allegations of voter impersonation, which is the type of fraud that identification laws work to prevent. That number comes from a total of more than 1 billion total votes that were cast.
Many of the identified instances of “voter fraud” that ID law proponents discuss are honest mistakes more than an active attempt to change an election. Even these mistakes are infrequent. One of the most common problems that an election board faces is a failure by an individual to de-register as a voter when they move somewhere else.
7. Voter ID laws come with a high price tag for implementation.
The states which actively enforce their voter ID laws are spending millions of dollars to ensure that there is integrity with their elective processes. Indiana spent over $10 million between 2007-2010 to produce free identification cards that were suitable for their voter ID laws. Texas spent over $2 million on educational programs and outreach efforts to voters after passing their laws. Considering the actual fraud and its expense to correct is minimal, the price of a voter ID law is very high compared to the results which are possible from its presence.
8. It provides an ongoing cost that people or governments must continue to pay.
When you obtain a voter ID card, then it is valid only when your information does not change. Once you move to a different address, then there is a requirement to update the information on your identification. Many jurisdictions give you 30 days to take care of this issue. Failing to do so can limit your access to voting and other ID benefits.
These cards will eventually wear out over time, even if there is no expiration date given to them. The pictures can become dated. The ID could even be lost or stolen, which could increase the potential for identity theft.
9. There must be a reliable delivery system for ID cards.
When there is a voter ID law in place, then the election authority must have a reliable system of delivery for the necessary identification materials. When there are poor distribution methods or policies in place, then it effectively excludes people from voting even if they paid for their identification according to the policy. Although this ID can be an effective form of identification for someone who doesn’t have a physical address, it may not be useful if there is not an instant delivery system in place to use.
10. Some people might show up to cast a ballot without their IDs.
Election officials must have some method in place to assist voters who might have a valid ID on file, but arrive at their precinct without the necessary identification to vote. Because the line to vote can be several hours long on Election Day, it may not be possible for someone to return home to retrieve their card or document. Failing to have an accommodation in place would further restrict the number of legal ballots cast, even if proponents might say that failing to be responsible with the ID means a natural consequence is an inability to vote.
Conclusion of the Pros and Cons of Voter ID
Although voter ID laws seem like an intelligent investment on paper, the reality of their presence is that it is legislation that is looking for a problem rather than trying to solve one. The cost of educating the public, training workers at the polls, and providing identification costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year.
There are some tangible benefits to consider with an ID requirement, including a reduction in the potential for fraud. It is also easier for the average person to purchase goods or services with age restrictions because the identification requirements provide proof of age.
The pros and cons of voter ID typically see the disadvantages outweigh the benefits simply because the issues that this legislation hopes to combat are not widespread problems. It may be beneficial to have these laws in place in the future as a proactive measure to protect the integrity of our elections, but the repressive results it creates today may be more harmful right now.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.