Both Sides Now: Voter ID Laws

This November, voters across the country will take to the polls for the midterm elections. Their experiences at the ballot box will largely be the same, but there is one component that differs drastically from state to state: voter identification laws.

Voter ID laws date back to 1950, when South Carolina became the first state to request that voters show some kind of identification document at the polls. Over time, more states began to enact similar laws. The trend continued over time, picking up steam after the GOP wave of 2010 and accelerating after the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County vs. Holder. That case removed requirements in the Civil Rights Act of 1965 that states with a history of discrimination seek pre-approval for any changes in voting rules that might affect minority citizens. This year, 34 states will enforce voter ID laws on Election Day.

So, are voter ID laws an important way to protect the security of our elections? Or are they an unnecessary obstacle designed to keep more citizens from voting?

Voter ID laws are a commonsense way to secure our elections.

One camp sees increasing ID requirements as a commonsense way to prevent in-person voter impersonation and increase public confidence in the election process.

“The reason that I voted for it was because I want to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat. If you need an ID when you open a bank account, if you need an ID when you go to the movies, if you need an ID when you buy a six-pack of beer or if you buy a pack of cigarettes, then you ought to be able to present an ID when you exercise the most precious right that we have, and that’s to participate in our democratic republic as a voter,” Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told WBUR.

Proponents of voter ID argue that states provide ample opportunity for voters to register and obtain identification. Secretary Merrill, for example, notes that Alabamans can get help from mobile units that tour all 67 of Alabama’s counties each year, or simply visit their county registrars any day that the local courthouse is open.

Lastly, supporters point to a lack of evidence that voter ID laws swing elections or disenfranchise large numbers of voters.

Voter ID laws are intended to suppress the vote.

The other camp believes that voter ID measures are intended to keep people away from the polls and are simply unnecessary. The American Civil Liberties Union calls voter ID laws “part of an ongoing strategy to roll back decades of progress on voting rights.” They argue that 11 percent of Americans lack a government-issued ID, and that the cost of obtaining proper ID keeps some low-income citizens from doing so.

Further, there is evidence that voter ID laws disproportionately impact minority voters. And in states that do not accept a student ID at the polls, students have a clear disadvantage.

Lastly, opponents say that voter ID laws are a solution in search of a problem, noting that voter fraud is extremely rare in the United States. At the same time, the lost votes can be meaningful. One analysis of Wisconsin, which has a strict voter ID law, found that 17,000 voters were kept from the polls in the 2016 election (President Trump won that state, and all of its electoral votes, by fewer than 23,000 votes).

No matter which candidates you plan to support in November, make sure you can vote in this election! You can look into the type of voter ID laws your state enforces here.