Coming up next year, an ID will be required before a voter can receive a ballot. North Carolina is among the nearly 35 states requiring some form of voter ID. The law in N.C. first will be applied to the election in March.
Arguments for and against this idea have been loudly heard for years. Despite the to and fro of vigorous debate, it all boils down to one thing: access. Since the mid-1960s with the civil rights and voting rights acts, people have sought ways to get people to the polls and to keep the voting fair for all. Let’s look at the arguments from one of the most famed U.S. institutions: the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU says that requiring voter identification is “part of an ongoing strategy to roll back decades of progress on voting rights.” However, in an eight-year study concluded in 2016, it was found that states requiring voter ID did not see any notable difference in voter reduction. The National Bureau of Economic Research concluded after looking at 1.3 billion voting incidences from 2008 through 2016 that “the laws have no negative effect on registration or turnout, overall or for any group defined by race, gender, age, or party affiliation.”
The ACLU is adamant that these laws are bad for the nation. The group insists that voter ID laws deprive many Americans of their right to vote as 11% of U.S. citizens lack an acceptable ID. And getting an ID in order to vote is expensive and for many Americans cost prohibitive. In Wayne County, we learned Tuesday that the county board of elections office is producing, for free, IDs that comply with the new N.C. law that people can use in order to vote. The office is not only providing free IDs but is offering educational seminars about the new laws. Any argument that disenfranchisement exists in Wayne County simply cannot be made.
The ACLU says voter ID laws are discriminatory with up to 25% of African-American citizens of voting age lacking government-issued photo ID compared to only 8% of whites. Let’s go back to the free IDs offered at the Wayne County Board of Elections. Anyone registered to vote who wants to vote can vote with a free ID. Race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation or political party affiliation are not factors when IDs are required to vote. The only thing keeping people from the polls is the same now as it has been for generations: apathy.
The ACLU reports that voter ID requirements are a “solution in search of a problem.” Citing a 2014 investigation, only 31 credible allegations of voter impersonation, the only type of fraud that photo IDs could prevent, occurred during a period of time when more than 1 billion ballots were cast. This argument could hold true. The National Bureau of Economic Research study also found “ID requirements have no effect on fraud either — actual or perceived.”
What we see as the benefit to voter ID is that people registered to vote simply will have another reliable form of identification to go along with a driver’s license, state-issued card, passport or any of the many other forms. Because, in actuality, voters have been identifying themselves for years at the polls whenever they verify their address and party affiliation.
Requiring voter ID is not the last new idea. Over the past 50 years we have seen myriad changes to how voting is handled: variations of absentee voting, motor-voter registration, one-stop, same-day registration, etc. Voter ID is just the latest of what surely will be a new-old idea as soon as the next best thing comes along.