The perennial debate over stricter voter ID laws is in the news again. In a controversial decision, the Justice Department has recently reversed the Obama administration’s decision to a Texas voter ID law.
Critics on the left assert that voter ID laws are inherently discriminatory against minorities and the poor. They claim that the poor are unable to afford voter IDs and that asking them to get one is an undue burden that they cannot cope with. Furthermore, since racial minorities are disproportionately poor compared to whites, voter ID laws qualify as racial discrimination. Leftists also argue that voter ID laws unfairly skew election results in favor of Republicans.
This raises several obvious questions. First, are voter IDs that expensive or difficult to obtain? Last I checked, a valid photo ID in NYC will run you anywhere between $8 and $15 depending on how old you are and where your birthday falls. Meanwhile, surveys show that 80% of Americans below the poverty line have cell phones, 96% have televisions and 97% have refrigerators. If you can afford a television or a phone, you can certainly afford a wallet-sized hunk of government-issued plastic.
What of the charge that ID laws are racist, because more minorities are poor? To see how absurd this is, note that our society is replete with activities that require a valid ID. You need a valid ID when you use a credit card, fly on an airplane, rent a car, buy liquor, pick up concert tickets, enter a bar, join the military, donate blood, open a bank account, buy cigarettes, get married, or pick up a prescription. Even high end grocery stores such as Sam’s Club and Costco will occasionally ask for an ID in order to verify that you have a valid membership. Are minorities discriminated against in these areas, too? Funny, I never hear about that.
It is probably true that requiring photo IDs reduces voter turnout, but this is not nearly as problematic as it might seem. Voter fraud is a rampant problem in the US, particularly in so-called “sanctuary cities” that do not enforce federal immigration law. In a recent Ohio investigation, it was found that over 380 non-citizens were registered to vote and approximately 80 of them cast at least 1 illegal ballot within the last year. If that sounds like a low number, keep in mind that there were 112 elections in Ohio that were either tied or decided by 1 vote in the last 3 years. In swing states, every vote matters!
Finally, what about the charge that Republicans benefit from voter ID laws? One poll conducted by Pew Research found that illegal immigrants who voted favor Democrats over Republicans by an 8 to 1 margin. If this is true in general, it would seem that support for Democrats is higher in the illegal immigrant community than it is in the population as a whole. So sure, the results may favor Republicans but that is because a higher proportion of legal voters want to vote Republican!
The truth is that this is all a smoke screen. Voter ID laws are meant to ensure that those who vote are legally able to do so. Those that oppose voter ID laws seek to win elections by enabling voter fraud. Voting is important; this is why we need stricter voter ID laws.