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.

Tom Mihalek/Reuters
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.

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.

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