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Should Iowa require voters to present photo ID?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | JANUARY 31, 2011 7:10 AM

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YES

Soon, there might be a new place you’ll need to show some identification: the voting booth.

While many are staunchly opposed to the Iowa House’s recently approved bill, which requires intended voters to show photo identification at the polling place, this change is neither a means of discrimination nor an infringement on voters’ 15th Amendment rights.

Instead, I see this change as a safety and security precaution; while voter fraud is a rarity, requiring photo IDs would make it nearly impossible.

Nowadays, a photo ID is required almost everywhere. I get carded upon making a deposit or withdrawal at my bank, at the hospital or clinic, prior to entering the Campus Recreation & Wellness Center to work out, and even upon completion of my final exam at the UI. All of these aim to verify my identity, not discriminate against me.

Voting should be no different.

I’m sure other young voters will agree. Voter Aaron Olson told KIMT, “It could help just because we’re getting into a different age where people are coming all around from America and Iowa is kind of a melting pot right now” when asked about the switch.

However, the young are not necessarily the population most people opposed to this bill are worried about. Rather, they’re concerned about those who don’t have a strong need for a driver’s license — the elderly and people with disabilities.

This bill would force people to obtain photo IDs, but that document does not have to be a driver’s license; it could be something as simple as a state ID card or passport, which are already required for everyday activities. This is not some new phenomenon. People always have and always will be carded.

So while this small gesture is being accused of alienation and discrimination, opponents need to look at the facts. Iowa representatives are not talking away citizens’ suffrage or discriminating against them, they merely ensuring people can prove that they are who they say they are.

—Taylor Casey

NO

To put it simply: There is no reason to require photo identification prior to voting.

According to studies by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, the only fraud that photo ID would prevent, in-person impersonation fraud, has never been proven to be a serious problem in the United States (and Iowa is no exception). Even worse, voting restrictions based on possession of identification tend to disproportionately disenfranchise people of color and those of lower socioeconomic status.

Despite this, the last decade has seen pushes by numerous states to require photo IDs at the polls, including Georgia, Texas, and Indiana; proponents cite the specter of widespread fallacious ballot-stuffing as sufficient for legislation.

Those proponents include those behind simultaneous efforts in Minnesota and Iowa to turn away voters without proper identification — according to the Brennan Center’s 2006 survey, approximately 11 percent of voting-age citizens.

The percentage increases when the field narrows to count only minorities: Fifteen percent of adult citizens making under $35,000 a year possess no current photo IDs; the same with 18 percent of citizens over 65 years old and 25 percent of African Americans.

The same study found that many of those adults lack the proof of citizenship necessary to obtain government-issued IDs; for these citizens, reacquisition of voting rights would cost a lot more than a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles and $5.

Given the unequal distribution of government-issued IDs and citizenship documents, any legislation requiring possession of these documents should only be a response to a serious voting fraud crisis — the kind that does not at present exist. Mere supposition is not enough grounds to disenfranchise minority voters.

Hopefully, the Iowa Senate understands the complete superfluousness of the photo-ID bill; otherwise, Iowa may constrain democratic involvement in the name of combating an imaginary foe.

— Shay O’Reilly


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