When it comes to voter I.D. laws, facts are elusive at best. Everything seems tainted by one or another political agenda.
A judge this week put Pennsylvania’s voter I.D. law on ice, at least for this year, because he couldn’t assure himself that everyone who needs a photo I.D. from the state was going to get one in time.
Barring an appeal, that settles the issue there for this election, but not in the long run. Similar laws in other states have passed court tests. Nor does it bring any clarity to an issue that seems dominated by nonsense on both sides.
Democrats say requiring voters to show a picture I.D. before receiving a ballot would disenfranchise many poor and disabled voters, who tend to vote for Democrats. The Brennan Center For Justice estimates as many as 10 percent of the voting population lacks such identification.
Really? If I go out on the street anywhere in this country and look around, one of every 10 people I see is not going to be carrying a picture I.D.? And this would be someone who normally votes in elections but won’t be able to because of this?
Try functioning without identification and see how far you get. This is an age in which a photo I.D. is required for a long list of everyday activities from banking to buying some over-the-counter medications to hopping on an airplane. Much of the time, I can’t even make a credit card purchase without also showing a clerk my driver license.
Yes, there are people out there without I.D., who want to vote. But I think a more believable percentage came out of the recent Franklin & Marshall College poll in Pennsylvania. It found that only 2 percent of voters there say they lack proper identification.
Still, it is important that those 2 percent be allowed to vote. That’s why Pennsylvania’s voter I.D. law requires the state to issue a valid I.D. to any voter who requests one. This seems reasonable, provided they can easily get one in time.
But on the other side are Republicans who claim identification is necessary in order to stem voter fraud. They have a hard time demonstrating this is a real problem.
In Kansas, Secretary of State Kris W. Kobach says 221 such incidents occurred there between 1997 and 2010. That’s an awfully small number when spread out across 13 years.
However, Kobach makes the argument in a Washington Post op-ed that the number is not insignificant when applied to certain extremely close elections, where small numbers could change the outcome.
He also references evidence found in Minnesota that 341 felons illegally voted in the 2008 election.
Underlying all of this are opinion polls that show Americans clearly want voter I.D. laws and see them as useful. The Franklin Marshall College poll found that 87 percent of voters in Pennsylvania knew about that state’s requirement, and 59 percent of registered voters approved of it.
Kobach referenced a SurveyUSA poll in 2010 that found 85 percent of Kansans supported it.
As usual when it comes to politics, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of all the arguments.
It would be naïve to think there aren’t people out there trying to affect election results through fraud. There are examples of this throughout history. However, widespread voter fraud is extremely difficult to carry out. The days of political voting machines that could organize bosses, get election judges appointed and stuff ballot boxes are probably over. There are too many eyes out there, including every cell phone camera in the nation, and electronic voting machines are difficult to hack.
But it also seems a stretch to say wide swaths of the country would be disenfranchised by requiring an I.D.
The bottom line is voter I.D. laws would be one more tool against minor fraud. But they have to come with some guarantee that every voter who needs one will have ready access to a card.
In most states, however, the issue simply doesn’t seem worth all the energy people are expending.