Photo ID Rule Shouldn't Derail Reforms

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Photo ID Rule Shouldn't Derail Reforms

A commission co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Sec. of State James Baker has outlined several key recommendations for improving the conduct of elections in future years. As the Associated Press reports:
The commission recommended improved voter registration lists, requiring a verifiable paper trail for electronic voting machines and rotating regional primaries, while warning that "Americans are losing confidence in elections."

"Some foreign countries have gone far beyond us in making sure that voting procedures and registration of voters is at a high level of true democracy," said Carter, who has monitored elections around the world.
The commission also recommends that top election officials in the states should be nonpartisan and chosen by super-majorities of the legislature so as to ensure their actions won't be influenced by partisan instincts.

But the commission's recommendations may not get very far. Why? Liberal congressmen and their allies are seeing red over one of the proposals.
Critics suggested that having to acquire the ID cards in order to vote could be an obstacle for minorities, the poor and older Americans and might intimidate some people.

"We believe such a requirement would constitute nothing less than a 21st century poll tax," said a letter from Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and John Lewis, D-Ga. Poll taxes were once used in some states to prevent black citizens from voting.
Comparing that to a poll tax is ridiculous.

Allowing states to require a photo ID is a small and reasonable compromise to getting a few things that Republican legislators have traditionally resisted -- in particular, the verifiable paper trail to help guard against electronic-voting fraud.

You can't board a commercial airplane, pick up event tickets at "will call," cash a check at a bank, or check into many hotels without displaying a photo ID. Is it so unreasonable to ask people to bring one with them when they vote?

The ID requirement is not without some basis. A lengthy investigation in the city of Milwaukee found that in last November's election, the number of votes cast there exceeded the number of registered voters by more than 4,600. More than 100 people voted twice, used fraudulent names or false addresses, or voted in the name of a dead person.

Besides, simply refusing to support this at the national level doesn't make it go away. As Carter pointed out, 24 states already require photo ID and 12 other states are considering such a mandate. At least the national proposal embraced by the Carter-Baker commission would require states to provide the ID cards for free and to publicize how these cards can be obtained -- conditions that don't apply in most state laws that now require photo IDs.

Additionally, the commission's proposal is not Draconian. It would still allow voters without ID to cast provisional ballots.

If progressives really want to improve access and integrity in the electoral process, allowing a photo ID provision is a very small, reasonable price to pay.

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