3 views on whether US states should require voter ID

Voter ID laws enacted recently in several states have taken center stage this election cycle, with proponents claiming they protect against against voter fraud and opponents calling them a political ploy that unfairly keeps poor and minority voters from the polls. Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson ruled Tuesday that the state could not implement its new voter ID law until after this year's November elections, effectively halting it for now.

As the fifth installment of our One Minute Debate series for election 2012, three writers give their brief take on whether US states should require voter ID. The "no" case is argued by Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice. Jonathan Tobin, editor and blogger at Commentary magazine, argues the "yes" case. And Richard Hasen, professor at UC Irvine School of Law, suggests "a middle way."

1.Yes: States must preserve the integrity of each vote, especially in an era of close elections.

A woman peers in through a glass door at a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation office in Philadelphia to see how long the lines are to get a voter ID card, Sept 27. Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson ruled Tuesday that the state could not implement its new voter ID law until after this year's November elections, effectively halting it – though the decision could be appealed to the state's Supreme Court and go into full effect at a later date. (Tom Mihalek/Reuters)

Assuring the integrity of the voting process is something that most citizens instinctively understand is the right thing to do. In the America of 2012, you need a picture ID to get on a plane, ride Amtrak, open a bank account, perform any transaction with most businesses and government, as well as buy alcohol or tobacco. 

Why is voting less important? States must preserve the integrity of the ballot process, especially in an era of close elections. Given the potential for long, disputed outcomes (Florida in 2000 and several state elections since then), there is a need for zero tolerance in voting fraud. A recent Washington Post poll shows nearly three-quarters of Americans support requiring people to have photo IDs to vote. Since 2011, eight states have passed voter ID laws. Minnesotans vote on the issue in November. 

Yet opponents of voter ID laws paint them as racist, meant to suppress the minorities as well as other groups that are supposedly unable to comply with these simple regulations. That’s a canard. There’s nothing racist about a procedure that can help prevent people who aren’t citizens or who aren’t legally registered from committing fraud. What is racist is the notion that African-American and Hispanic voters who don’t have an ID are incapable of getting one.

Acquiring a voter ID is not complicated. In states that have passed such laws, one may be obtained from the government free of charge, though costs such as for transportation are incurred. 

As for liberal assertions that there is no voter fraud in the United States, most Americans respond with a snicker. To believe that the parties and their supporters don’t try to cheat requires us to ignore American political history – as well as just about everything we know about human nature.

Voter ID laws are constitutional and make sense. Arguments to the contrary are partisan hot air.

Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor and chief political blogger of Commentary magazine. He can be reached via e-mail at jtobin@commentarymagazine.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TobinCommentary.

No: Restrictive laws that require photo ID are an attempt to manipulate the election.

Americans should be skeptical of the sweeping changes to state voting rules that will make it harder for many eligible citizens to vote. 

According to research here at the Brennan Center for Justice, as many as 11 percent of voting-age American citizens do not have the kinds of government-issued photo IDs required by the highly restrictive voter ID laws passed since last year in Pennsylvania, Kansas, Tennessee, and elsewhere. That includes longtime voters who are seniors, veterans, and minorities. 

These citizens face hurdles of access, time, and costs in obtaining such IDs. The timing of these laws, passed in a major election year, also makes them suspect. Indeed, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson ruled Tuesday that the state could not implement its new voter ID law until after this year's November election, effectively halting it for now. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had asked the lower court to review whether voters would be disenfranchised in the rush to implement the state’s new ID law.

There is no way to get the new state-issued photo IDs into the hands of all eligible Americans covered by the new laws before the election, especially given the rickety condition of the ID-issuing operations in many states.

So why are politicians hastening to put in place these requirements? Could it be they don’t want certain Americans to vote? In Pennsylvania, House majority leader Mike Turzai bragged to his Republican colleagues that the state’s new voter ID law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state.” 

Restrictive voter ID laws like the one passed by Mr. Turzai and his colleagues help determine winners only by excluding legitimate voters who might not vote the way the politicians want. 

That’s not right. Politicians should not be able to manipulate election rules for political gain. 

Of course it is important to protect the integrity of elections and prevent voter fraud. But our country was founded on the principle that we are all created equal. Living up to that promise means we cannot stand for new rules that block large numbers of eligible Americans from voting.

Wendy Weiser is the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

A middle way: National voter ID card would restore trust, reduce costs in a fair way.

America needs to move toward a more rational way of administering elections – and beyond the stale debate in which Republicans complain about voter fraud and Democrats yell about voter suppression.

The primary kind of voter fraud that state ID laws could prevent – impersonation voter fraud – is rare and does not seem to have affected an election outcome in at least a generation. And Democrats exaggerate the number of people likely disenfranchised by state ID requirements.

This partisan fight over fraud versus suppression plays out not just among voters, but in the very way elections are run: Controversial rules like voter ID laws are enacted in most places on party-line votes in state legislatures. Further, state and county election rules are often administered by partisan elected officials (often without adequate training or resources). Partisanship and decentralization raise the risk of unfair and uneven treatment of voters.  

We need a national solution. For federal elections, a nonpartisan US agency should register every eligible voter to vote and provide each one with a photographic identification card to be used for voting anywhere in the United States

It would be up to the federal government to pay for the documentation, such as birth certificates, needed to verify identity. Voters would have the option to provide their thumbprint with the ID card, which could be used instead of the card at the polling place, or if the card is lost. When a person fills out a change of address card at the post office, voter registration would move automatically.

This solves a lot of problems: It minimizes voter registration fraud. It also eliminates the high costs for parties to register voters and for states and local government to maintain voter rolls and check for fraud. It prevents double voting across state lines. National registration and identification tackles fears of fraud and suppression in a fair, rational way.

Richard Hasen is a professor at the School of Law at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of “The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown.”