On the twitters, lawyer Marc Elias offered what he perceived to be a strong condemnation of one facet of the Georgia law, that mail-in votes would require some form of identification to connect the person voting with the right to vote.
It wasn’t entirely clear what his beef was. Was the problem that voters were too dumb to figure out what the “DL NO.” was? Sure, mistakes could happen, but what was the real problem here? It was that any identification was necessary, and so picking at the edges of any choice was part of the battle against requiring identification to vote.
The rationale for identification is straightforward. In order to vote, you must meet qualifications, such as age and citizenship. You can only vote once. You can only vote for races in the jurisdictions where you reside. There are a few ways to make this work, one of which is to trust voters who show up at polls or mail in their votes to be honest, law-abiding voters. The other is to require voters to register in advance to vote and show that they meet the requisite qualifications, and then, when they vote, prove that the person casting the vote is the person entitled to do so.
This protects the integrity of the vote as well as the voter. Imagine showing up at the polls only to be told that you already voted and can’t vote again. You shout, “What?!?” as your civic right is stolen from you. The poll watcher shrugs. “Somebody said they were you. What was I supposed to do about it, ask for ID?”
The response to this is voter fraud rarely happens, which may be because Americans are so darn honest or because regulations and the diligence of poll workers did a good job of preventing any sort of mass effort to scam the vote. As efforts to significantly change the ways in which we vote, from excuse-free mail-in voting to early voting over a period of weeks, opportunities will present themselves that didn’t exist in the past.
Maybe good citizens and the political parties and candidates they love will be too honest to take advantage of them. Maybe not. If someone believes their team is so wonderful that it must win “at all costs,” this might not be too high a cost to pay, a bit of voter dishonesty for the good of society. It hasn’t happened yet, but it could.
We live in a society where identification is required for so many things. We can’t drive without a license. We can’t fly to Paris without a passport. We can’t open a bank account without an ID. If you want to enjoy a delicious 18-year-old smokey beverage at the Grassy Knoll Pub, you need to show ID. But these, the courts tell us, are “privileges,” whereas voting is a right. Aren’t IDs sufficiently ubiquitous that it’s just not an issue anymore?
- Millions of Americans Lack ID. 11% of U.S. citizens – or more than 21 million Americans – do not have government-issued photo identification.
- Obtaining ID Costs Money. Even if ID is offered for free, voters must incur numerous costs (such as paying for birth certificates) to apply for a government-issued ID.
- Underlying documents required to obtain ID cost money, a significant expense for lower-income Americans. The combined cost of document fees, travel expenses and waiting time are estimated to range from $75 to $175.
- The travel required is often a major burden on people with disabilities, the elderly, or those in rural areas without access to a car or public transportation. In Texas, some people in rural areas must travel approximately 170 miles to reach the nearest ID office.
- Voter ID Laws Reduce Voter Turnout. A 2014 GAO study found that strict photo ID laws reduce turnout by 2-3 percentage points, which can translate into tens of thousands of votes lost in a single state.
For people who have no need to drive, there’s no reason (or ability) to get a driver’s license. Sure, there are other IDs available, but why get them if you don’t need them? That it may be a burden to some based on personal circumstance is true, but when did the right to vote become a right to effortless voting. Civic rights, which include voting and jury duty, involve some small degree of effort, at minimum, and a not insignificant degree of effort to do it right and fulfill our responsibilities as citizens. For example, it would be useful to maintain a vibrant democracy for voters to have a working knowledge of issues and the candidates’ positions on them, yet we don’t test for that anymore than we test the candidates’ grasp of constitutional rights.
When I first got my driver’s license, it was typed on a piece of fancy state-issued paper. It included my name and address, my height and weight. My eye and hair color. And not much else beyond a number. Since many of us were of similar appearance, it was fairly easy to game identification, such as when we wanted to spend an evening at the Tumble Inn despite only being 15 years of age. We just borrowed a friend’s license. Buying smokes was even easier, since they were in vending machines found everywhere.
Even when I was admitted to the bar, the only evidence of my joining the Guild was my good word. We had no bar cards or numbers. We had a fancy certificate on the wall, but it didn’t fit in our wallet so no judge ever asked for proof. We gave our appearance and the court accepted our word for it.
There are many people who are entitled to vote, a valued right of citizenship, who don’t possess whatever identification a government requires. Is it too much to require them to get one, get something, to prove they are who they say they are? Is it a “solution” in search of a problem? Why can’t we just trust each other? We used to trust each other before progress got in the way. If people don’t want to have to “show their papers” when engaging in other activities for which the Constitution provides no protection, why would exercising a civic right be any less worthy?