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Five more states have recently joined the ranks of requiring identification to vote at polling places: Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, and Texas. Though federal law has always required first-time voters to show a photo ID, states have not always had the same requirement. However, in the past decade, states have increasingly passed legislation requiring some form of identification, whether it be a government issued photo ID, a utility bill, or merely a signed affidavit.
For the upcoming midterm elections, 34 states now require some form of ID. At first, one might think "of course you should have to show a photo ID to vote. We've all heard the voter fraud stories about dead people's votes being cast." But it really isn't that simple, and unfortunately, the debate goes down party lines.
Requiring Voter ID Is Helpful, but Will It Change Things?
Republicans have pushed for photo ID laws since the party took control of the House and Senate in 2015. They claim that voter fraud is rampant, and with elections being decided by so few votes these days, every vote should be accurate. The concept of slim margin victories is one most people can agree on.
However, there haven't been many voting fraud convictions, especially at polling sites. (Keep in mind, you don't have to show ID to drop your absentee ballot in the mail.) From 2002 to 2007, which was well before most voting ID laws went into effect, only 120 voter fraud cases were filed by the Justice Department. Many of these were found to be due to mistakenly completed registration forms or misunderstanding voter eligibility. Of the 120 cases, there were 86 convictions. Though we can all agree that elections can turn on the slightest margin, 86 votes over a five year period is practically a rounding error.
How Many People Are Truly Being Disenfranchised?
Democrats claim that requiring an ID is akin to a poll tax, because it is harder for certain people to obtain an ID. In rural area, some DMVs are only open once a month. ID's require birth certificates, which are difficult and expensive to procure. The elderly might not have a valid driver's license anymore, and it may be difficult for some to get to the DMV. Therefore, Democrats feel that voter ID disenfranchises eligible voters.
However, a 2012 Reuters study showed that less than 1% of the voters that couldn't vote since they didn't have an ID would have actually voted had they had one. Meaning, the same groups that wouldn't get a photo ID are the same groups that have a tendency not to vote anyway. Therefore, although the poll tax/disenfranchised voter is a legitimate argument, it too would hardly amount to a rounding error.
Just as Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof said, "On the one hand ... But on the other hand ... But on the other hand ...," both parties put forth a sound, yet inconsequential argument for voter ID. Perhaps the big winners in this are the states, which would make a lot of money issuing more ID cards. But the DMV doesn't really have excess capacity to service a huge influx of customers, as noted by the bad publicity currently surrounding the California DMV. And, as noted, if someone really wants to evade ID issues, just vote absentee.