Winning the Fight for Voter-ID
States with voter-ID laws must implement them soundly.


John Fund

Any state looking to implement a sound voter-ID law must address these problems. Rhode Island secretary of state Ralph Mollis, a Democrat, convinced his state’s left-leaning legislature to pass a photo-ID bill in 2011 to address problems of voter fraud in Providence and other cities. The law included extensive outreach efforts, with Mollis’s office going to senior centers, homeless shelters, and community centers to process free IDs. The law has been implemented smoothly, Mollis says, and he views it as a national model.

Indeed, in 2005, a bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform, headed by former president Jimmy Carter and former secretary of state James Baker, issued 87 recommendations on how to clean up our system. One of its most important, support for national voter ID, was based on the commission’s finding that “the electoral system cannot inspire public confidence if no safeguards exist to deter or detect fraud or to confirm the identity of voters.” Eighteen of the 21 commission members called for voters to show photo ID at the polls and for more security for absentee ballots.

Robert Pastor, the former executive director of the Carter-Baker commission (he also set up the Carter Center’s election-monitoring programs), says he is disappointed that so few of the commission’s recommendations have been implemented at the state or national level. In 2012, after a trip to Mexico, he compared that country’s electoral system unfavorably with ours: “The Mexican electoral system is much fairer, professional, independent, and nonpartisan than the U.S. system.” Every voter gets a biometric photo-ID card; the registration list is audited regularly; and the photos of the voters are on the list in each polling site.

Sadly, Pastor died this month, and his commonsense, bipartisan approach to making our election laws better will be missed. We need voter-ID laws to protect ballot integrity, and we also have to provide adequate resources to make sure voters have an ID. Such efforts should be in everyone’s interests. Andrew Young, President Carter’s U.N. ambassador, noted that, in an era when people have to show ID to travel, marry, or cash a check “requiring ID can help poor people who otherwise might be even more marginalized by not having one.”

When Pennsylvania’s voter-ID law is either appealed or rewritten, let’s hope that the state does a better job debunking the inflated estimates that hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians lacked an ID.

The state should also emphasize that even when voters show up at the polling place without an ID, they can vote on a provisional ballot. The state will count that ballot if the voter mails, faxes, or e-mails a copy of acceptable ID within six days of the election. If a person lacks the money to obtain the background documents necessary to acquire a voter ID, he can sign an affidavit attesting to that fact, after which his vote will be counted without further questions.

Pennsylvania officials should also explain that requiring voter IDs does more than keep fraudsters away from polling places. It also deters voting under false registrations and voting by illegal aliens and people registered in more than one state. U.S. Justice Department investigations in the past have shown that these types of fraud do take place in Pennsylvania.

As for allegations that there is scant evidence that people commit voter fraud at polling places, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals addressed these when it upheld Indiana’s voter-ID law:

There is voter fraud, specifically the form of voting fraud in which a person shows up at the polls claiming to be someone else — someone who has left the district, or died, too recently to have been removed from the list of registered voters, or someone who has not voted yet on election day. Without requiring a photo ID, there is little if any chance of preventing this kind of fraud because busy poll workers are unlikely to scrutinize signatures carefully and argue with people who deny having forged someone else’s signature. . . . The absence of prosecutions is explained by the endemic underenforcement of minor criminal laws (minor as they appear to the public and prosecutors, at all events) and by the extreme difficulty of apprehending a voter impersonator.

New York City’s watchdog Department of Investigations proved how easy it is commit in-person fraud last month when it issued a reporting detailing how its undercover agents showed up at 63 polling places and claimed to be individuals who had in fact died or moved out of town, or who were sitting in jail. In 61 instances, or 97 percent of the time, the testers were allowed to vote (they voted only for nonexistent write-in candidates). The city’s Board of Elections, rather than examine its own sloppy procedures, responded by demanding that the investigators be prosecuted.

Pennsylvania’s voter-ID law is in need of a tune-up, especially when it comes to outreach on free IDs. But the basic case for such laws hasn’t been undermined by the decision of the Pennsylvania court. The vast majority of voters agree with the U.S. Supreme Court that properly drafted voter-ID laws are not overly burdensome. A 2012 Washington Post poll found that nearly two-thirds of African Americans and Hispanics back the requirement for photo IDs. And for good reason. Where strict voter-ID laws have been in operation for years, in states such as Indiana and Georgia, they have worked smoothly and the turnout of minority voters has in fact increased. Indeed, the Census Bureau has found that the rate of voter turnout for blacks exceeded that of whites for the first time in the 2012 election.

“When the day is done, my job is to maintain the integrity of elections,” Mollis says in explaining his support for voter-ID in Rhode Island as well as in other states. “Even if a state doesn’t have an immediate problem with fraud, doesn’t it make sense to take sensible precautions rather than wait for someone to abuse the system, and then it’s too late?”

— John Fund is a national-affairs columnist for National Review Online. Along with Hans von Spakovsky, he is the author of Who’s Counting: How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk.


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