Finding Common Ground on Voter ID Laws
41 Pages Posted: 21 May 2019 Last revised: 13 Nov 2019
Date Written: May 17, 2019
Voter ID laws are currently in force in 35 states. In most states, these laws have been divisive and controversial. Our political parties see the world differently when it comes to voter ID requirements. Republicans are concerned with election integrity and claim that voter ID laws are necessary to prevent fraud. Democrats liken voter ID laws to the poll taxes and literacy tests of the past and claim these laws disenfranchise minorities, the elderly, and the poor. Because the perceptions of voter fraud and the conclusions about the effects of voter ID laws differ between the parties, voter ID laws have been the subject of intense debate and subject to multiple court challenges.
To move the conversation forward, this Article seeks to forge a new path. It first recounts the history of voter ID laws, looks at their justifications, and probes their popular support. It then discusses the litigation involving these laws and examines the scholarly literature concerning their effects. At least some of this literature suggests that voter ID laws may have less impact than is commonly believed, both in terms of preventing voter fraud and in terms of suppressing turnout. As such, this Article explores a way that proponents and opponents of these laws could be brought together to achieve their common goals: protecting the integrity of American elections while not making it any more difficult for ordinary citizens to participate in the democratic process. This Article offers a proposal for how these twin goals could be achieved with a voter ID requirement.
Any state mandating a voter ID requirement would have to agree to take on the burden of providing voter IDs free of charge to all citizens when they register to vote, and it would have to ease the barriers to voter registration. The state’s goal in doing so would be to broaden the electorate in the short and long term. Second, the state would have to make sure that its voter ID requirement was population-neutral. This means the requirement would have to be designed so that it does not discriminate against any group. Third, states requiring voter IDs would have to take steps to ensure that voters who lose or forget their IDs have a safety net and that there is still a way for them to cast a ballot, if they can later prove their identity.
The best way for a state to implement all of these reforms would be to delay the implementation of its voter ID requirement until after it runs a multi-year marketing and public relations campaign educating its citizens about its new requirement. In short, this Article argues that voter ID laws should be used to enlarge, rather than restrict, a state’s voting electorate, and ultimately, to strengthen a state’s democratic base.
Keywords: voting, voter identification, election administration, election integrity, election fraud
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