Just a few weeks ago, Brian Kemp, the Governor of Georgia, signed into law a series of election overhauls that received harsh criticisms---President Biden called it “Jim Crow of the 21st Century” and the MLB moved its all-star game out of Georgia in protest. The overhauls in the Election Integrity Act of 2021 have been criticized over issues ranging from giving the (Republican-majority) state legislature more control over the administration of elections, to criminalizing giving water and food to voters waiting in line. This law has vaulted debate over voting laws to the forefront of national conversation, a core concern being the adoption of voter ID laws specifically. Republicans generally support these laws on the ostensible premise of preventing election fraud; Democrats reject this logic, alleging that they suppress turnout among poorer voters and voters of color.
Proponents of voter ID laws argue that requiring a photo ID to vote can prevent several kinds of voter fraud. For example, the conservative Heritage Foundation has pointed to multiple instances of voter fraud to argue that it is a major issue that needs to be addressed. Heritage noted that since the 1990s, there have been 1317 individual cases of voter fraud. These cases include “a widespread, 14-year conspiracy that cast thousands of fraudulent votes through impersonation fraud in state and congressional elections,” according to Hans A. von Spakovsky of Heritage. Von Spakovsky also noted that the moderate former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, who has been a Republican-turned-independent and later a Democrat during his political career, called voter ID laws “a reasonable request to ensure the accuracy and integrity of our elections.” Von Spakovsky also argued that the presence of voter ID laws can instill stronger confidence in our election system, and that these laws are supported by a large majority of the US population.
On the other side of the argument, opponents argue that the voter ID laws disproportionately affect poorer voters, voters of color, as well as senior citizens. The ACLU noted that while only 8% of white Americans lack a government-issued photo ID, a whopping 25% of black Americans lack it. In addition, the ACLU cited a study conducted by Caltech and MIT that found that voters of color are more frequently scrutinized over their voter ID compared to white voters. In an article on Slate, Forrest Wickman explained that while driver’s license is a common form of voter ID, people of color are less likely to drive, and thus less likely to have that form of identification. Additionally, Wickman argued that voters of color are statistically more likely to be poor and live in urban areas and thus less likely to have the resources or need to own a car. Wickman also cited a study that found that half of driver’s license suspensions are due to failure to pay for fines, which also disproportionately impacts poor people. Lastly, specifics of the voter ID laws can benefit one party at the expense of another. For example, the ACLU noted that while Texas allows for concealed carry licenses to be used as photo ID, they do not accept student ID cards. Thus, it is easier for gun owners, traditionally more Republican, to vote, while harder for young people, who lean Democratic, to cast their ballots.
So, which side is correct? Do both sides have valid points that must be addressed through a compromise? As it turns out, it is possible that neither side is right. German Lopez of Vox noted that in a joint study by two students at the University of Bologna and Harvard Business School, researchers found that voter ID laws are not effective at preventing voter fraud, do not have a significant effect on voters’ confidence, and do not seem to dampen voter turnout, even when the data is stratified by race. However, the researchers admitted, their study should not be taken as the last word in this debate, given that their study could have methodological flaws.
What about other countries? How do governments around the world view voter ID laws? Many democracies, such as France, Israel, and Mexico, do require some form of identification to vote. Usually, they are government-issued IDs used to prove one’s citizenship. In others, such as Finland, the government sends out a notice to vote or proof of voter registration via mail, which can be used for identification at the polling booth. Some countries like Canada allow certified citizens to testify for those without a photo ID, allowing them to cast a valid ballot. Meanwhile, in Switzerland, some cantons allow for blockchain voting, a secure form of remote voting that can be done through one’s phone or computer.
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