As I was waking up this morning, I heard a news story about the partisan fight in many states to require voters to present government issued photo IDs. While I disagree with Republicans on many issues, this is one on which I agree with them. I remember the first time I ever voted. I lived in Louisiana at the time, and when I arrived at my polling place, I had to show my ID before being directed to a voting both. Now, I'll admit that I don't know if it is actually law in Louisiana, but at that time nearly 15 years ago, it happened, and I didn't think twice about it. It seems obvious that you should prove your identity before being allowed to vote. It seemed so obvious to me that I was taken aback when I moved to New York and was not asked for ID before voting. Perhaps fraud doesn't happen much, but it is very easy to commit fraud if one desires with the current system. Given how much hoopla there is these days about making sure every vote is counted and recounted, I think we should be ensuring that those votes are legal and valid.
Opponents to ID laws claim that they will disenfranchise poor, minority, and elderly voters who don't have state IDs. Some people have said that these effected groups don't always have a birth certificate to get an ID. To this I say that a birth certificate is not required. Every state in which I have lived has offered multiple options for required documentation. There are always two or three lists from which you need to provide one item each. A birth certificate is one option, but it is not required. Having said that, I have three suggestions to solving the other problems that might prevent someone from having a photo ID.
1. If the problem is that people can't afford the $10-15 to pay for a state ID, then we should find ways to subsidize them through government, non-profit, or political organizations. I know that in Illinois there is already a reduced fee of only $5 for senior citizens, that could easily be extended to low income applicants of all ages.
2. If the problem is that people can't get to a DMV or other government office to get an ID. Then we should either provide shuttle buses (Walmart provides such a service to bring customers from poverty stricken neighborhoods to shop at their stores; we could do the same for those wanting IDs.). If that solution doesn't sound appealing, mobile ID vans could be sent to those neighborhoods. A few years ago, when we were considering getting an Illinois ID for our daughter, we happened upon a temporary setup for the Illinois Secretary of State at the Taste of Chicago where workers were indeed issuing state IDs. The setup included a tent, a table, some chairs, camera equipment, and a small printer. Easy. Thus, I know this is not an impossible idea.
3. Finally, rather than issuing a voter registration card with only name and address, State Boards of Elections could issue photo registration cards. The simplest way of doing this would be to submit a picture with your registration papers. If political organizations are going door-to-door registering people, they could bring along a camera and necessary equipment to take photographs. By making the registration card also the photo ID, you eliminate any claim that people can't afford IDs or that they can't get to a DMV or other government office to get one.
It is important that everyone who is eligible and wants to vote be able to do so. However, it is also important that we have safeguards to ensure that everyone who is voting is voting legally. On a side note, it is probably also a good idea to stop allowing people to register to vote on the application for driver's licenses and state IDs because that brings in a whole other problem of registering people who are not eligible... These are all problems that can and should be addressed.