Tuesday, January 17, 2012

If photo ID is not needed for voting, then ...

If a photo ID is such an onerous and detestable requirement for voting, perhaps Congress should consider passing a ban on such a discriminatory requirement in other transactions. The U.S. Justice Department has blocked South Carolina's implementation of a voter ID requirement, and lawsuits are challenging voter ID laws in other states.

If photo ID is such a terrible thing, maybe we should forbid any requirement for a photo ID for such transactions as cashing a check, using a credit card, obtaining a library card, taking a college entrance exam, renting a car, or boarding a commercial airliner. Opponents tell us that the incidence of voter fraud is near zero, but, then again, very few checks are forged, and only a tiny percentage of credit card transactions are fraudulent. And of all the people boarding airline flights every day, far less than 1 percent are trying to blow up or hijack the plane. A photo ID is required for these transactions partly to avoid a terrible outcome but also to keep people honest. If an obstacle stands in the way of a crime, most people will avoid trying to cross that barrier. See if the Transportation Security Agency will let you on a plane without an ID because you think photo IDs are discriminatory.

I'm not persuaded that the people pushing voter ID bills are entirely forthright in their insistence that they are merely trying to prevent election fraud. It does seem likely that a voter ID requirement will hurt Democratic candidates worse than it will hurt the Republicans who are pushing the bills. But provisions can be made to ensure more equitable application of the law. ID cards can be made free or at very low cost for those (the elderly and poor, primarily) who are most likely not to have an ID card.

For me, as it did for many of my peers, it came as a shock to realize that I could go to vote without ever having to show proof of who I am. The nice ladies at the polling place would ask me to state my name, and then they just took my word for it and let me vote. Wasn't voting just as important as getting a library card or renting a video — actions that required a photo ID?

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