Why are we hearing about controversy over voter ID laws in 2016? What’s wrong with showing a driver’s license, or other types of picture ID’s when one goes to vote?
This recent controversy started when the Supreme Court ruled by a 5-to-4 vote in a case called Shelby County v. Holder, that Section 4(b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional because the coverage formula is based on data over 40 years old, making it no longer responsive to current needs and therefore an impermissible burden on the constitutional principles of federalism and equal sovereignty of the states. This picture shows which states and local governments have been subject to federal preclearance of any changes to their voting laws or practices.
The 15th Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1870, declared that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other means, Southern states were effectively able to disenfranchise African Americans. In 1964, the states ratified the 24th Amendment to outlaw the poll tax in federal elections. At the time, five southern states still had a poll tax
– Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Arkansas. It would take the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, however, before the majority of African Americans in the South were registered to vote.
It is useful to look at the actual language from the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
SEC. 2. No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.
SEC. 4. (a) To assure that the right of citizens of the United States to vote is not denied or abridged on account of race or color, no citizen shall be denied the right to vote in any Federal, State, or local election because of his failure to comply with any test or device in any State with respect to which the determinations have been made under subsection (b)…
(b) The provisions of subsection (a) shall apply in any State or in any political subdivision of a state which (1) the Attorney General determines maintained on November 1, 1964, any test or device, and with respect to which (2) the Director of the Census determines that less than 50 percentum of the persons of voting age residing therein were registered on November 1, 1964, or that less than 50 percentum of such persons voted in the presidential election of November 1964.
(c) The phrase “test or device” shall mean any requirement that a person as a prerequisite for voting or registration for voting (1) demonstrate the ability to read, write, understand, or interpret any matter, (2) demonstrate any educational achievement or his knowledge of any particular subject, (3) possess good moral character, or (4) prove his qualifications by the voucher of registered voters or members of any other class.
When the Supreme Court issued its ruling on Shelby County v. Holder, the states which had been under federal oversight were released and started to pass voter ID laws. Texas, along with 8 other states, passed a voter ID law characterized as “strict photo ID”. Under this law, voters without an acceptable photo ID would be given a provisional ballot to vote on Election Day, then required to come back within a limited time, a few days, with a proper ID. If the voter did not return with the ID, the provisional ballot would not be counted.
Almost immediately, these state voter ID laws were challenged as discriminatory. Challengers claim that voter ID laws are primarily drafted by Republican-dominated state legislatures for the express purpose of restricting voting and registration in ways that limit voting by African-Americans, Hispanics, the poor and elderly more than other citizens. They argue that the cost of showing proof of citizenship and identity is not zero. If a poor person does not have proof, for example, the cost in time and money to a poor person to get proof is relatively high. It amounts to a modern test and poll tax, and results in that person giving up trying to get a photo ID. Because these groups tend to vote predominantly for Democrats, opponents interpret Voter ID laws as a way for Republicans to keep power.
On the other hand, the large influx of illegal immigrants has caused a great deal of concern about the potential for voter fraud. Voter ID laws are a response to this concern. In 2015, the California Political Review published a poll which claims that 13% of illegal aliens admit that they vote in US elections. Furthermore, supporters point out that a photo ID is needed by everyone in order to be able to do routine things in our society such as board an airplane or buy Sudefed.
Such claims, however, are also challenged as attempts by the right-wing media to mislead citizens in favor of “discriminatory” and “restrictive” voter ID laws. Opponents of Voter ID laws cite their studies that voter fraud is a myth.
On August 10, 2016, a federal district court entered an order modifying the Texas voter identification requirements in all elections after this date, to include the following requirements:
The ID must be current, or be expired for less than 4 years:
- Texas driver license issued by the Department of Public Safety
- Texas election ID certificate
- Texas personal ID card
- Texas license to carry a handgun
- US military ID card with your photograph
- US citizenship certificate containing your photograph (doesn’t need to be current)
- US passport
If you don’t have any of these, you’ll need to (1) sign a sworn statement that there is a reason why you don’t have any of the IDs listed above, and (2) bring one of the following:
- Valid voter registration certificate
- Certified birth certificate
- Current utility bill
- Government check
- Paystub or bank statement that includes your name and address
- Copy of or original government document with your name and an address (original required if it contains a photograph).
No ID is required for mail-in ballots.
All of the items in the list above require the citizen to do something prior to Election Day in order to secure an acceptable form of identification. Even voter registration is required before Election Day. In Texas, the last day to register to vote was October 11, four weeks before Election Day. It seems to me that anyone with the motivation to register would also have the ability to secure proper identification. In fact, the first question on the Texas registration form asks if you are a US citizen. The form also asks if you have a driver’s license or Personal ID number. If not, it asks for the last four digits of your Social Security number. If you have none of this information, it asks you to check a box.
Therefore, based on the data from all registered voters, each precinct captain should know in advance of Election Day how many potential voters have no ID. But not all states have registration deadlines. Nine states and Washington, D.C. have same day registration (SDR). Voters are required to show proof of residency and sign an oath attesting to their identity and citizenship. In these states, the penalty for voter fraud is severe. Even under federal law, the penalty is up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each act of fraud. States with SDR claim the cost to implement is minimal and vote integrity is high.
If this is the case, then I propose the following two-part solution to the Voter ID controversy.
First, each precinct would offer Same Day Identification (SDI). If the cost of SDR is minimal, then the cost of SDI must also be minimal. SDI eliminates the objection that Voter ID laws suppress minority voters. Everyone who wants to vote would go to their precinct with an approved form of documentation (see the Texas list), vote their conscience on a provisional ballot, and leave with a completed election ID certificate. If the precinct did not have the capability to produce the certificate at the polling station, they would simply have to be able to take the picture and application, and then mail the certificate after the election. In this way, everyone who voted in the election would have an acceptable form of photo ID for the next election. If the voter’s documents do not support his or her claim of US citizenship, then the provisional ballot is not counted and the ID is withheld. Of course, this makes it easy for the state to make its case of voter fraud should this ever happen.
Second, anyone who does not have a photo ID on Election Day would have to dip their finger in election ink. Many Americans will remember the use of election ink in the first election in Iraq after the fall of Sadaam Husein. The purpose of election ink is to prevent double voting, particularly in situations where identification documentation is not standardized. The stain lasts on the skin for 72 – 96 hours. Election ink is used not only in third world countries, but has also been used in Japan, Canada, and the United States. The use of election ink would be a strong deterrent for double voting by those that do not
bring a photo ID to the polling station. Also, the knowledge that a person will have their forefinger inked when the vote may also provide enough incentive to get their photo ID before they vote.
Maintaining the integrity of the election process requires continuous diligence and commitment. Guarding the franchise of every citizen requires equal commitment. Same Day Identification in combination with election ink is a solution which can accomplish both goals without sacrificing either.