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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Feb 2, 2012 10:28 AM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says: in response to Stephen Wilson

The FBI and local law enforcement can already get a warrant on your banking information and monitor your calls - and they can track every credit card transaction you make.  I don't see how a national ID simply used to verify that you are who you say you are infringes on your privacy.  It would be one of the least intrusive forms of ID in your life.

So long as the national ID is used only for government related business, such as voting, collecting social security, and proving citizenship to employers I'm all for it.  I don't think it should be used for private business transactions except perhaps travel on airlines.

I think a far bigger problem is identify theft and document fraud.  I see this as a solution to help prevent that.

I'm far more concerned about a corporate controlled media than a national ID which would solve more problems than it creates.

Feb 2, 2012 10:34 AM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says: in response to R. Lawson

Alternatively, convert social security cards into bio-identity cards so that we don't have duplicate forms of identification.

I simply want to know that you are when you vote, travel on commercial aircraft, proving citizenship or right to work to employers, and collecting social security.

Why should the tax payers get robbed of votes and our tax dollars because of cheaters a frauds?

Feb 2, 2012 11:00 AM Stephen Wilson Stephen Wilson  says: in response to R. Lawson

I agree that document fraud and ID theft are major issues.  And I appreciate the restraints that you talk about , like confining the use of a new ID Technology to government transactions.  This is related to what a privacy regime calls Use Limitation.  It is also important that identification technologies are deployed in a proportionate way, so that they don't entail collecting more personal information than is required.  Reasoned privacy advocates worry about the metadata that is generated by electronic ID.  For instance, if you have to present your ID in routine transactions, audit trails are automatically generated that reveal your day-to-day behaviours in detailed and unprecedented ways.  Important questions arise about whether that newly created data is really necessary, who should have access to it, how long is it retained and so on. The experience of organised crime and identity theft (as in the many cases of big database breaches) is that any new aggregation of personal information, especially a national ID audit trail, is of immense value and will inevitably be attacked.

Feb 2, 2012 11:31 AM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says: in response to Stephen Wilson

Stephen, why don't privacy activists make more nuanced arguments?  Instead of saying "no national ID" why aren't they saying "we want a national ID with the following privacy safe-guards"?

Not doing something to reduce fraud and theft isn't an option.  Can't we do both, and be smart about how we do it?

Feb 2, 2012 12:03 PM Stephen Wilson Stephen Wilson  says: in response to R. Lawson

That's a fair question, with many answers:

- there is a rhetorical arms race where sloganeering on boths sides triggers like responses

- privacy enhancing technologies are difficult to understand so the public debates are often dumbed down; it's easier to say "no" than to argue "yes but"

- there are grounds to suspect that national ID card advocates do have a hidden agenda, and there has been experience of function creep that has made privacy advocates suspicious

- some national ID advocates do have an overt agenda; homeland security zealots often say that "privacy and security are a zero sum game" and this provokes defensive reactions from privacy advocates

- privacy itself can be a philosophical minefield that, like technology, some choose to avoid in their debating tactics.

Some of us remain optimistic that privacy enhancing technologies can produce a third way, preseving both privacy and security.  Both sides of this debate need to better articulate what problems they're trying to solve, and what the real issues are with their opponents' positions. 

Feb 2, 2012 12:46 PM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says: in response to Stephen Wilson

Thank you for that well-informed and honest response.  We have similar problems in our own activism regarding the H-1b visa where there are many sides unwilling to compromise on much.

One group are true anti-immigrants so finding a workable solution that involves immigrants doesn't sell.  The other group cares solely about corporate interests and does not care about the immigrants or workers harmed.  Some pro-immigration groups believe that any legal solution is better than no solution; they would probably support indentured servitude if it meant they could come. 

Then there is the moderate group that works to find a solution that truly considers workers, immigrants, and corporate interests.  I am admittedly anti-corporation as it relates to this issue because they have abused the program for so long I see no redemption for them, and I don't think corporations should sponsor immigrants.  But, I support immigration policies that would attract smart people + their families that would make corporations money - so I indirectly support them.  I also support protections for workers.  When we have millions unemployed, it's time to restrict immigration and expand it once employment normalizes.  Immigrants shouldn't need to apply or get another sponsor to change jobs - so I support their ability to have mobility once they are in our workforce.

My views are considered anti-immigrant or xenophobic for some, anti-corporate to others, and some consider them anti-American.  I just can't win

But, that is what is wrong with this country and how we debate issues.  We turn everything into stupid talking points and "left vs right" or "capitalist vs socialist".  There is no room for nuance or middle-ground.

So based on my experience with this issue, I can feel your pain on privacy rights.  If you concede anything you could be punished politically.  And if you don't concede you may also be punished.  The system just doesn't work well for the center.  The extremes have more influence than the middle-ground.

Feb 2, 2012 1:09 PM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says:

I just want to chime in and say how much I wish all the reader commentary in this blog could be like this exchange between Roy and Stephen. This is the reason I write this blog -- to generate an informed, intelligent discussion. My thanks to them for setting an example that I can only hope will be emulated.

Feb 2, 2012 2:58 PM Stephen Wilson Stephen Wilson  says:

If it's "goofy" to oppose national ID on principle and the creeping fascism that goes with it, perhaps Mr Tennant could raise the tone of his rant by explaining how Timothy McVeigh for argument's sake would have been stopped by an ID alone?  A national ID is self-evidently the thin end of the wedge for it's completely useless on its own.  It really does go hand-in-jackboot with national surveillance which treats everyone as potential security threat. 

Isn't it ironic that national ID proponents so often caricature privacy advocates as paranoid, when the ID philosophy is that there are enemies all around, just waiting to be rooted out by a numbering system?

Feb 2, 2012 4:52 PM ITJob ITJob  says: in response to Stephen Wilson

I don't see any different than what current TSA does...

According to them scanning people selectively (maximum 100 ppl in an avg per airport may fall under this) is "Racism" or "Profiling"...

To make more money out from public (or from Fed) they hide their real intention and continue scanning/patting down every single human who wants to use the airways even if the human being is a toddler!!! or 95yrs elder people.

Now they wants national ID which has to be maintained by one big fat Federal agency so that they can continue looting tax payers.

I don't understand the concept of having different numbering system for different purpose let alone need of numbering system.

Feb 5, 2012 2:01 PM hoapres hoapres  says: in response to Don Tennant

It's all about CHEAP labor and we really don't want to fix the "immigration mess"

Just use some common sense.

If you don't want immigrants then you don't hire them.

Case closed.

If we really wanted to crack down on immigrants then simply check for legal right to hire when the employment offer is given.  If you find out that the person is not a legal resident then the policing authorities be in DHS or the local police department immediately deports the illegal immigrant.  If you as an employer are found to be hiring an illegal immigrant then the EMPLOYER is subject to a hefty fine.  Mulitple offenses results in your business getting seized.

Case closed.

Clearly the above is not going to happen but it certainly is technically feasible.  The above paragraph is pretty close to how Switzerland operates.  The Swiss grant a few very limited number of work visas valid ONLY for the authorized employment period.  The Fremdenpolizei makes sure that "you go home" when your Visa expires.

Switzerland is one of the most democratic countries along with civil liberties on Earth providing you are Swiss.  If you are not Swiss then you come to work and keep your mouth shut having virtually no rights. 

Case closed.

We all hear the arguments of : "Americans won't pick food in the field", "We can't find qualified skilled US workers" but it is all a matter of cost.

Americans won't be starving as we all need to eat.  I am the first to admit that food prices are going up if we crack down on illegal immigrants because Americans are not going to be working for $50 or less a day in the fields.  Start paying Americans $300+ a day to work in the fields and then you will be swamped with workers.  If the labor costs become prohibitive then automation starts to take over as in the wheat and corn fields reducting the need for agriculture labor.

It's eminently doable to "crack down on immigration" and you don't really need a "national ID" card to do it.  We just don't WANT TO crack down on "immigration" or perhaps better put the "powers that be" don't want to crack down on immigration.

Feb 8, 2012 11:54 AM Dr. Gene Nelson Dr. Gene Nelson  says:

Bravo, Don for bringing this up. I believe that the "cheap labor lobby" is behind preventing a national ID or verification of citizenship before voting.

In June, 2011, I gathered information that suggests that 1. Illegal aliens are voting in Arlington County, Virginia. and 2. Illegal aliens and their children account for around $100 million of the $1.2 billion annual budget of Arlington County. I presented a summary of my findings in oral citizen commentary to the Arlington County Board of Directors on June 11, 2011. Rather than pledging to get to the bottom of this fraud, Chris Zimmerman, the Chair of the Board commented, "I regret the comments of Dr. Nelson." - And the Chair knows me as a fellow church member!

This likely vote-buying is going on all over the country. It will only end with enforcement of existing laws that only U.S. citizens vote in U.S. elections.

Feb 9, 2012 10:04 AM George Alexander George Alexander  says:

There are few things that I can't understand for the life of me:

1. Why Police don't have the right to ask people for id if they feel suspicious enough.

2. Why a valid id is not required for voting (and activists claim that requirement is targetted against minorities?)

3. How Arizona & Georgia and other state's bills that would have given local authorities more power to identify illegals were struck down and severely challenged by the federal government. Activists claim these were directed against hispanics. Aren't chineese and indians immigrants too?

4. How the US federal government referred the Arizona govt. to the UN on the new immigration bill.

Feb 10, 2012 6:39 PM SP SP  says: in response to George Alexander

The reason a valid ID is not required to vote in most states is simple: The politicians WANT the illegals to vote. Do you actually think that the Latino vote block would be as significant if only the citizens of Latino descent were allowed to vote? As far as I know, Indians and Chinese are more interested in making money and minding their business- they wait to become citizens to vote, a lot of them don't vote at all! My neighbor has been a US citizen since '06- She's yet to vote. She never voted in India either.She registered herself, but she's bit politically motivate


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