Gracey: The trouble with voter ID


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On Aug. 12, North Carolina passed one of the most egregious voting-rights bills in American history, a bill that has prominent members of the Republican Party chastising North Carolina legislators for damaging the party’s reputation.

In addition to eliminating a variety of policy measures aimed at reducing the state’s ability to disenfranchise voters, the bill also requires people to have universal photographic IDs in order to vote. The debate over voter-ID laws is not limited to North Carolina, however. In fact, more than 1,000 voter-ID bills have been considered in 46 states (including Iowa) since 2001.

Still, many people don’t seem to think requiring voters to show IDs is a big deal. The underlying numbers tell a much different story.

A national survey by the Brennan Center for Justice in 2006 found that roughly 11 percent of the electorate lacks government-issued photographic identification of the type required by such laws.

In addition, after Pennsylvania considered a similar law, state officials estimated that more than 758,000 citizens lacked acceptable photo IDs in that state alone — a state President Obama won by only 605,820 votes in 2008.

Despite the potential for disenfranchisement, proponents of these laws claim they are necessary to curb the voting fraud they say is endemic in modern American elections. But when proponents of such laws are unable to provide proof of the widespread voter fraud necessitating draconian measures, I can’t help but wonder if there is perhaps an ulterior motive aside from protecting the integrity of the ballot box.

Indeed, how important is requiring IDs at the polls when the majority of electoral fraud occurs either via absentee ballot or by election judges — two problems unaddressed by voter-ID legislation?

As a society of free and equal people, it is important to cool down the rhetoric and look at the underlying facts: People who lack the necessary IDs fit a certain demographic profile. They are largely economically marginalized, either very young or very old, and usually belong to non-white minority groups. A quick glance at survey research and exit polls reveals these groups tend to vote Democratic on Election Day.

No surprise, then, that it’s the Republican Party pushing voter-ID bills across the country.

As if all this weren’t enough, I’d like to point out one particularly striking measure in the North Carolina bill that may hit home with University of Iowa students, where the Legislature has attempted to pass voter-ID legislation as recently as this spring. College students will no longer be able to use student IDs to vote in North Carolina.

In 1979, the Supreme Court upheld the right for college students to vote where they reside and go to school. Now, this right is being denied to students who live in and attend school in North Carolina but don’t have state-issued ID cards.

Nationwide, voter-ID bills have pervaded statehouses in spite of the fact that evidence of widespread fraudulent voting at the country’s polling places hasn’t manifested itself to justify disenfranchising millions of people.

I grant that it occurs on a small-scale, but even evidence of that is hard to come by. Voter-ID laws seem more of a solution in search of problem than something our elected representatives should be wasting time and money on.

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