General Law

Are Voter ID Laws Necessary?

Are-Voter-ID-LawsA statute requiring Pennsylvania voters to show some form of government ID before voting at their local polling place has been halted by a Pennsylvania court until after the election in yet another examination of whether “Voter ID” laws serve any meaningful purpose. The statute, which had already been implemented throughout the state, is fiercely controversial. Proponents argue that they are simply trying to combat the prevalence of voter fraud, especially in large metro areas, while opponents argue  the laws discriminate against the poor, elderly, young, minorities and the infirm, who may be less likely to know about the law, and find themselves unable to vote.

The fundamental question, though, is whether voter fraud is an actual problem. Virtually every examination has concluded that it is not: from Professor Minnite’s The Myth of Voter Fraud (finding only 60 accusations of voter fraud between 1996 and 2005, with many of these being simple clerical errors) to the New York Times (which declared “there is almost no voting fraud in America.”) to the Seattle Times (finding only 10 instances since 2000) to Arizona’s Secretary of State, Ken Bennett (voter fraud is a “rare instance”).

On the other hand, Voter ID laws do have a real effect on voting for many people. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, Voter ID laws could “make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.”  The tradeoff between eliminating rare instances of voter fraud and disenfranchising millions of people is significant. What happens with the Pennsylvania statute after the election may provide guidance for the several states, including Arizona, which have similar laws.

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