Voter ID laws have been a highly contentious issue for many years. However, it seems to me like there is very little engagement between those on the Left and those on the Right. Both sides simply shout their talking points without ever directly responding to the other sides’ arguments. Therefore, I’ve attempted to reconcile the arguments of both sides below; here are my thoughts on the issue.
First, it is just common sense to mandate some degree of voter identification. As someone who flies quite regularly, I am baffled by suggestions by those on the Left that people should be able to vote without an ID. Showing an ID is crucial in validating someone’s identity. Whether I’m boarding a plane or travelling to another country or entering a secured building, I’m always asked for identification. It is simply bizarre that this same standard isn’t applied to voting, a right granted only to citizens of the United States. What’s even more frustrating is that the liberal activists who argue for the elimination of voter ID laws are frequently the same ones who argue for mandatory identification of and background checks on gun owners. Voting and owning a firearm are both constitutional rights, so why should one require an ID while the other doesn’t?
At the same time, the issue is a lot more complex than this for a number of reasons. As Drezner summarizes, “There’s a disturbing legacy of poll taxes in the United States, and there are ways in which the ID requirement is tantamount to such a tax. Also… there’s scant direct evidence of voter fraud.” Indeed, it was recently revealed that many voter ID laws (such as in North Carolina) were explicitly designed to suppress the African American vote. This is very troubling, and Republicans’ inability to admit that their party racially discriminated against African Americans and restricted their right to vote probably goes a long way in explaining why the African American community is a core constituency of the Democratic coalition.
When considering voter ID laws, two things need to be considered. First, how many fraudulent votes do ID laws prevent. Second, how many legitimate votes do ID laws suppress. Currently, I think it is overwhelmingly clear that the number of legitimate votes suppressed exceeds the number of fraudulent votes prevented… by a lot. Thus, we need to design a system in which the integrity of the vote is maintained while, at the same time, legitimate citizens are able to easily vote. I believe that the best solution to balancing these two demands is automatic voter registration during one’s eighteenth birthday. In much the same way as the Selective Service mandates all 18 year old men register for the draft, there should be a similar system in place to provide voter IDs. This would ensure that dead people and foreigners aren’t allowed to select the elected officials of the United States while still guaranteeing that everyone who wants to vote is able to.
Obviously it can never be this simple because neither party really seeks fairness for the sake of fairness. Both try to manipulate the system in order to generate electoral success. With demographic shifts favoring Democrats, Republicans have an incentive to make voter registration and identification as challenging as possible in order to limit the power of minority communities. In an ideal world, however, I think automatic voter registration and identification would go a long way in creating a more legitimate and fair system.