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Dumb and Dumber: No Voter ID Required, No National ID Allowed

Don Tennant
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Top Online Privacy Predictions for 2012

I have a hunch that the people who argue against requiring voters to prove their identity are pretty much the same crowd that argues against the idea of having a national ID card. Neither argument makes any sense to me. In fact, it seems to me that being required to prove your identity when you vote is plain common sense, and a national ID card is a perfectly sensible mechanism for it.

 

When I voted in the presidential election in 2008, I was living in Massachusetts, and I was kind of shocked that I wasn't asked to show any ID. Here's an excerpt from a blog post on Computerworld in which I wrote about the experience:

I voted this morning in the town of Shrewsbury, and I was stunned by how efficient the process was. All I had to do was provide my name and address to the blue-haired lady sitting behind the folding table. She found my name on her printout, checked the box next to it, and handed me a ballot. I walked over to one of the voting booths, used a black Sharpie to draw a line between the arrows next to the candidates of my choice, gave my name and address to another blue-haired lady sitting behind a different folding table, fed my ballot into a scanner, and left. I was in and out in less than 10 minutes.

 

If I was stunned by the efficiency, I was exponentially more stunned by the stupidity. Inexplicably, no one asked me for an ID to verify that I was who I claimed to be. Anybody could have walked in and given my name and address and stolen my vote, as long as he arrived before I did. Similarly, I could have provided any random Shrewsbury street address, looked down at the easily visible names on the blue-haired lady's list, and chosen to be any male at that address who hadn't already been checked off with the lady's red pen.

I just assumed that it was an aberration - a careless oversight, if not gross negligence and mismanagement, in a small-town New England voting center. So you can imagine my befuddlement when I learned that the state of Massachusetts doesn't require its residents to show an ID when they vote. When I subsequently learned that a lot of states don't require voters to prove their identity, it all seemed so nonsensical that I felt like I'd been the butt of some cosmic practical joke. And yet it's all true: According to the National Council of State Legislatures, 19 states require absolutely no ID when you vote. And of the 31 states that do require an ID, 16 don't care whether it has a photo.


 

One of the big arguments against voter IDs is the purported cost. A Daily Kos post in December suggested that what the mainstream media isn't reporting is that a voter ID program would cost millions of dollars, and it would be a huge waste of money because voter fraud is so negligible. The problem with that conclusion is that it's based on the absurd premise that the way to measure how much voter fraud exists is to count the number of voter fraud convictions. The Daily Kos post cited a New York Times report that 55 people were convicted of voter fraud from 2002 to 2005. It also cited statistics compiled by the Republican National Lawyers Association that showed that from 2000 to 2010, 21 states had only one or two convictions for voting irregularities. Why, the argument goes, should we spend millions of dollars on a voter ID program when there have only been a few dozen cases of voter fraud in recent years?

 

The reality, of course, is that it's ludicrous to contend that the way to tell how extensive voter fraud might be is to count the number of convictions. We have absolutely no way of knowing what percentage of actual voter fraud has even been identified, let alone resulted in convictions. There's obviously no way to know how extensive the problem is when there's no way to ascertain whether a person was voting fraudulently in the first place, because he wasn't required to show an ID.

 

Then there's the argument that requiring voters to prove their identity discriminates against disadvantaged people in the population, because those are the people who are least likely to have any form of proper identification. I don't buy it. I would argue that having proof of one's identity is a really good first step away from disadvantage, and toward becoming a contributing member of society.

 

We could help alleviate these and any number of other social ills, from the pervasiveness of identity theft to the ubiquity of undocumented workers, if we'd only muster the communal gumption to demand a national ID card with embedded biometric information. The outlandish, paranoid "your papers are not in order" fear that's so frequently and hysterically voiced in a discussion of this topic is so mindless as to border on infuriating. The goofy notion that simply having a national ID card somehow means that you would be compelled to produce it anytime some authority figure demands it just doesn't pass the nonsense test.

 

One more thing. If I had a national ID card, I can assure you that I would carry it proudly and gratefully. And I'm not the only one. I can recall a few years ago having had the honor to witness a group of people from about 20 different countries taking the oath to become naturalized citizens of this nation. You can bet that every one of them would treasure a national ID card issued by the United States of America, as would millions of other people around the world who will never have the precious opportunity to take that oath.

 

It's time to demonstrate some fortitude. Let's stop allowing ourselves to believe that we're so weak and defenseless that a national ID card would crush us.


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