voting booth

Benefits and Drawbacks of Voter ID Laws

The recommendation for voters to present photo identification regardless of which state they vote in first appeared about 15 years ago. Overall, Republicans tend to support the voter identification requirement and Democrats tend to oppose it. Politicians from both sides of the aisle attract a lot of attention to their cause by speaking on the topic passionately and often.

However, the reality is that the issue is nowhere near as simple as some people try to make it. Legitimate reasons exist for and against more stringent ID verification requirements for voting. Rather than choose one side and refuse to consider other viewpoints, both politicians and the public would do better to consider all angles of the polarizing topic.

What Are the Main Reasons for Favoring Voter ID?

People who support strict id verification requirements state the reason for their support is two-fold. First, they want to inspire confidence in Americans that their voting process is safe and secure. Secondly, they point to the fact that participation in nearly every other aspect of life requires photo identification. Passing regulation that would make voter ID mandatory provides basic security that the person voting is who they say they are according to proponents.

Voter ID supporters also point out that most forms of identification have several security features that aid election judges in determining whether the ID is legitimate. Besides a photograph, some driver’s licenses and identification cards include a signature and personal identifying details that make it easier for election officials to verify who they have standing in front of them.

voter id requirements debate
FILE PHOTO: Voters cast their ballots to vote in state and local elections at Robious Elementary School in Midlothian, a suburb of Richmond

What Are the Main Counter Arguments?

Those who oppose voter ID laws sometimes equate them with voter suppression. They feel concerned that some people may be unable to exercise their constitutional right to vote because they do not carry the correct form of identification. Some other considerations of people and politicians against voter ID laws include:

  • Even when obtaining an ID is free, the process can still be costly. People obtaining an ID for the first time may need to request copies of original documents and then drive to a location not in their immediate area to process the documents. Recent research on the topic indicates that the average cost of obtaining an ID is $175 when factoring in travel expenses, processing fees, and wait time.
  • Having voter ID laws in place tend to reduce attendance of voters on election day. Lack of ID usually impacts poorer families the hardest, which can result in at least three percent of eligible voters choosing not to participate in the process.
  • Voter ID legislation can be discriminatory. Research conducted by the University of California at San Diego indicates that election judges question minorities about their ID more often than Caucasians.

Voter ID Still Operating on a State-by-State Basis

With no federal consensus on the topic expected anytime soon, states are imposing or restricting their own versions of voter ID laws. One example is Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania who recently demonstrated greater willingness to request voter ID, even for people who vote by mail. Currently, Pennsylvania requires only people voting for the first time to show photo ID.

State regulations on voter ID tend to fall along partisan lines with red states implementing them and blue states blocking any attempt at passing them. Unfortunately, this can lead to an even bigger divide between the two ideologies in the United States.

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