Top of the Morning

Top of the morning

The following excellent editorial on mandatory photo ID laws for voting is cross-posted from this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal:

“Voter suppression, typically aimed at racial and ethnic minorities, the poor and women, has a long and sad history in the U.S. Even today, attempts to erect procedural barriers to frustrate voting continue in North Carolina.

House Bill 351, which requires photo identification at the polls, passed the General Assembly but was vetoed by Gov. Bev Perdue in June. It stands only five votes short of a House veto override and then almost certain Senate approval.

The GOP says we need photo identification to protect the legitimacy of elections. They imagine a state with widespread voter fraud, despite the absence of any evidence to support that claim. If this bill becomes law, there will be voter fraud, but it will be committed against citizens denied their constitutional right to vote.

If there were significant voter fraud in this state — and there is not — then this would still be a bad bill because it wouldn’t stop it. Phony photo identification cards are easy to get — just ask 19-year-old college students who want to drink beer — and those who want to cheat will simply get one. It is the honest citizen who will be stopped from voting.

Proponents argue that getting a legitimate I.D. is easy and that the bill says many forms of government-issued identification are acceptable. But that argument does not consider the mobility problems that face the poor, especially those who are elderly. Shut-ins, those without transportation and those who do not know how to get an I.D. will be denied their right to vote.

This bill should fail.


  1. Frank Burns

    March 5, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    From the 2005 Election Commission report chaired by former President Jimmy Carter, recommended that photo IDs be used to avoid the risk of fraud.

    This report does not square with the narrative developed here of voter suppression. I agree with Jimmy Carter and the Election Commission. Photo IDs will fix the problem.

    From the above study, “Fraud occurs in several ways. Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.56 A notorious recent case of absentee ballot fraud was Miami’s mayoral election of 1998, and in that case, the judge declared the election fraudulent and called for a new election. Absentee balloting is vulnerable to abuse in several ways: Blank ballots mailed to the wrong address or to large residential buildings might get intercepted. Citizens who vote at home, at nursing homes, at the workplace, or in church are more susceptible to pressure, overt and subtle, or to intimidation. Vote buying schemes are far more difficult to detect when citizens vote by mail. States therefore should reduce the risks of fraud and abuse in absentee voting by prohibiting “third-party” organizations, candidates, and political party activists from handling absentee ballots. States also should make sure that absentee ballots received by election officials before Election Day are kept secure until they are opened and counted.

    Non-citizens have registered to vote in several recent elections. Following a disputed 1996 congressional election in California, the Committee on House Oversight found 784 invalid votes from individuals who had registered illegally. In 2000, random checks by the Honolulu city clerk’s office found about 200 registered voters who had admitted they were not U.S. citizens.57 In 2004, at least 35 foreign citizens applied for or received voter cards in Harris County, Texas, and non-citizens were found on the voter registration lists in Maryland as well.58

  2. gregflynn

    March 6, 2012 at 9:46 am

    As usual, you stop at the first terms that match your Google search and fail to read the full document you refer to. The ID recommendation is based on the premise of uniform national Real ID or EAC-template ID and safeguards to increase voter participation, not diminish it, and to protect personal information. I’m taking the liberty of posting a lot of text below which comes from the full report:

    The Commission puts forward 87 specific recommendations.

    To prevent the ID from being a barrier to voting, we recommend that states use the registration and ID process to enfranchise more voters than ever. States should play an affirmative role in reaching out to non-drivers by providing more offices, including mobile ones, to register voters and provide photo IDs free of charge. There is likely to be less discrimination against minorities if there is a single, uniform ID, than if poll workers can apply multiple standards. In addition, we suggest procedural and institutional safeguards to make sure that the rights of citizens are not abused and that voters will not be disenfranchised because of an ID requirement.

    We propose measures that will increase voting participation by having the states assume greater responsibility to register citizens, make voting more convenient, and offer more information on registration lists and voting. States should allow experimentation with voting centers. We propose ways to facilitate voting by overseas military and civilians and ways to make sure that people with disabilities have full access to voting. In addition, we ask the states to allow for restoration of voting rights for ex-felons (other than individuals convicted of capital crimes or registered sex offenders) when they have fully served their sentence. We also identify several voter and civic education programs that could increase participation and inform voters, for example, by providing information on candidates and the voting process to citizens before the election. States and local jurisdictions should use Web sites, toll-free numbers, and other means to inform citizens about their registration status and the location of their precinct.



    A good registration list will ensure that citizens are only registered in one place, but election officials still need to make sure that the person arriving at a polling site is the same one that is named on the registration list. In the old days and in small towns where everyone knows each other, voters did not need to identify themselves. But in the United States, where 40 million people move each year, and in urban areas where some people do not even know the people living in their own apartment building let alone their precinct, some form of identification is needed.

    There is no evidence of extensive fraud in U.S. elections or of multiple voting, but both occur, and it could affect the outcome of a close election. The electoral system cannot inspire public confidence if no safeguards exist to deter or detect fraud or to confirm the identity of voters. Photo IDs currently are needed to board a plane, enter federal buildings, and cash a check. Voting is equally important.

    The voter identification requirements introduced by HAVA are modest. HAVA requires only first-time voters who register by mail to show an ID, and they can choose from a number of different types of identification. States are encouraged to allow an expansive list of acceptable IDs, including those without a photograph, such as utility bills or government checks. These requirements were not implemented in a uniform manner and, in some cases, not at all. After HAVA was enacted, efforts grew in the states to strengthen voter identification requirements. While 11 states required voter ID in 2001, 24 states now require voters to present an ID at the polls. In addition, bills to introduce or strengthen voter ID requirements are under consideration in 12 other states.

    Our Commission is concerned that the different approaches to identification cards might prove to be a serious impediment to voting. There are two broad alternatives to this decentralized and unequal approach to identification cards. First, we could recommend eliminating any requirements for an ID because the evidence of multiple voting is thin, and ID requirements, as some have argued, are “a solution in search of a problem.” Alternatively, we could recommend a single national voting identification card. We considered but rejected both alternatives.

    We rejected the first option — eliminating any requirements — because we believe that citizens should identify themselves as the correct person on the registration list when they vote. While the Commission is divided on the magnitude of voter fraud — with some believing the problem is widespread and others believing that it is minor — there is no doubt that it occurs. The problem, however, is not the magnitude of the fraud. In close or disputed elections, and there are many, a small amount of fraud could make the margin of difference. And second, the perception of possible fraud contributes to low confidence in the system. A good ID system could deter, detect, or eliminate several potential avenues of fraud— such as multiple voting or voting by individuals using the identities of others or those who are deceased — and thus it can enhance confidence. We view the other concerns about IDs — that they could disenfranchise eligible voters, have an adverse effect on minorities, or be used to monitor behavior — as serious and legitimate, and our proposal below aims to address each concern.

    We rejected the second option of a national voting identification card because of the expense and our judgment that if these cards were only used for each election, voters would forget or lose them.

    We therefore propose an alternative path. Instead of creating a new card, the Commission recommends that states use “REAL ID” cards for voting purposes. The REAL ID Act, signed into law in May 2005, requires states to verify each individual’s full legal name, date of birth, address, Social Security number, and U.S. citizenship before the individual is issued a driver’s license or personal ID card. The REAL ID is a logical vehicle because the National Voter Registration Act established a connection between obtaining a driver’s license and registering to vote. The REAL ID card adds two critical elements for voting — proof of citizenship and verification by using the full Social Security number.

    The REAL ID Act does not require that the card indicates citizenship, but that would need to be done if the card is to be used for voting purposes. In addition, state bureaus of motor vehicles should automatically send the information to the state’s bureau of elections. (With the National Voter Registration Act, state bureaus of motor vehicles ask drivers if they want to register to vote and send the information only if the answer is affirmative.)

    Reliance on REAL ID, however, is not enough. Voters who do not drive, including older citizens, should have the opportunity to register to vote and receive a voter ID. Where they will need identification for voting, IDs should be easily available and issued free of charge. States would make their own decision whether to use REAL ID for voting purposes or instead to rely on a template form of voter ID. Each state would also decide whether to require voters to present an ID at the polls, but our Commission recommends that states use the REAL ID and/or an EAC template for voting, which would be a REAL ID card without reference to a driver’s license.

    For the next two federal elections, until January 1, 2010, in states that require voters to present ID at the polls, voters who fail to do so should nonetheless be allowed to cast a provisional ballot, and their ballot would count if their signature is verified. After the REAL ID is phased in, i.e., after January 1, 2010, voters without a valid photo ID, meaning a REAL ID or an EAC-template ID, could cast a provisional ballot, but they would have to return personally to the appropriate election office within 48 hours with a valid photo ID for their vote to be counted.

    To verify the identity of voters who cast absentee ballots, the voter’s signature on the absentee ballot can be matched with a digitized version of the signature that the election administrator maintains. While such signature matches are usually done, they should be done consistently in all cases, so that election officials can verify the identity of every new registrant who casts an absentee ballot.

    The introduction of voter ID requirements has raised concerns that they may present a barrier to voting, particularly by traditionally marginalized groups, such as the poor and minorities, some of whom lack a government-issued photo ID. They may also create obstacles for highly mobile groups of citizens. Part of these concerns are addressed by assuring that government-issued photo identification is available without expense to any citizen and, second, by government efforts to ensure that all voters are provided convenient opportunities to obtain a REAL ID or EAC-template ID card. As explained in Section 4.1, the Commission recommends that states play an affirmative role in reaching out with mobile offices to individuals who do not have a driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID to help them register to vote and obtain an ID card.

    There are also longstanding concerns voiced by some Americans that national identification cards might be a step toward a police state. On that note, it is worth recalling that most advanced democracies have fraud-proof voting or national ID cards, and their democracies remain strong. Still, these concerns about the privacy and security of the card require additional steps to protect against potential abuse. We propose two approaches. First, new institutional and procedural safeguards should be established to assure people that their privacy, security, and identity will not be compromised by ID cards. The cards should not become instruments for monitoring behavior. Second, certain groups may see the ID cards as an obstacle to voting, so the government needs to take additional measures to register voters and provide ID cards.

    The needed measures would consist of legal protections, strict procedures for managing voter data, and creation of ombudsman institutions. The legal protections would prohibit any commercial use of voter data and impose penalties for abuse. The data-management procedures would include background checks on all officials with access to voter data and requirements to notify individuals who are removed from the voter registration list. The establishment of ombudsman institutions at the state level would assist individuals to redress any cases of abuse. The ombudsman would be charged with assisting voters to overcome bureaucratic mistakes and hurdles and respond to citizen complaints about the misuse of data.

    The Commission’s recommended approach to voter ID may need to adapt to changes in national policy in the future. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, concerns about homeland security have led to new policies on personal identification. Under a presidential directive, about 40 million Americans who work for or contract with the federal government are being issued ID cards with biometrics, and the REAL ID card may very well become the principal identification card in the country. Driven by security concerns, our country may already be headed toward a national identity card. In the event that a national identity card is introduced, our Commission recommends that it be used for voting purposes as well.

  3. Frank Burns

    March 6, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    As usual, you go off on a tangent. I was responding to the Winston Salem article about the issue of photo IDs being necessary to counter voter fraud. The Winston Salem Journal incorrectly portrays those who support photo IDs as somehow supporting voter suppression. Clearly it is in alignment with the election commission recommendations chaired by Jimmy Carter. Focus Greg, focus.

  4. gregflynn

    March 6, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Clearly you didn’t read, even though I pasted it for you. House Bill 351 does not provide the recommended protections.

    we suggest procedural and institutional safeguards to make sure that the rights of citizens are not abused and that voters will not be disenfranchised because of an ID requirement.

    Clearly you don’t live somewhere like Bertie, Hyde or Tyrrell County where the DMV office is open just one day per month. Clearly you are not an elderly African American woman who had her home birth recorded in a family bible.

  5. Frank Burns

    March 6, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    In other words, all those imagined problems with elderly African American woman and others can be worked out with photo IDs. The election commission addressed those issues. The fact that these items were not specifically mentioned doesn’t mean those measure can’t be taken. Do we need wording in the bill to tell us what to eat for lunch?

  6. gregflynn

    March 7, 2012 at 10:36 am

    The NC bill didn’t address them.

  7. Frank Burns

    March 7, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    The NC bill does not have to address every single point, that would be worked out in implementing the policy. The NC bill does not tell us every single thing, it doesn’t have to. Good grief.

  8. gregflynn

    March 8, 2012 at 10:23 am

    If it’s not in the law it ain’t gonna happen.

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