America / Politics / Regulation

Trending Incorporation of Voter ID Laws

In my political science class, my professor, we’ll call him Dr. Mane, was leading a discussion on adequate forms of voter identification in states that require them.  Amidst the class conversation, Dr. Mane mentioned how absurd it is that the state of Texas accepts concealed carry permits as valid forms of identification, yet does not accept student ID cards.  I cocked my head to the side, thought for a moment, and then provided my input.

“Dr. Mane, you do know that Texas is not the only state to accept a concealed carry permit as valid form of identification and not student IDs, right? Ohio, the state where you and I live, accepts a concealed carry permit and not a student ID card.”

“Yes, but how is that justified?  People are not going around stealing student IDs, so why are they not valid?”

“Dr. Mane, there is a fundamental difference between a concealed carry permit and a student ID. Concealed carry permits are issued and mandated by the State.  Student IDs are not.  Whether or not people are not stealing student ID cards is irrelevant.  Your Social Security is not tied to your student ID, your proof of residence is not tied to your student ID, and even at a public university the ID card is not issued by the state.  If I were to present my student ID card at airport security, they would not let me pass.  So why should it be a valid form of identification to vote?”

“Thank you for your input, AJ. We are never talking about this topic again.”

And avoid it we did.

As frustrated as I may have been, the conversation sparked my interest in voter ID laws in the United States.  According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a total of 34 states have passed some form of voter ID law. States define “valid identification” differently.  Some states require photo ID, some states do not.  How strictly the laws are enforced vary as well.  Some states allow citizens to cast a provisional ballot without an ID on-hand as long as they present a certificate within a certain number of days after casting their vote.  Other laws require a valid form of ID before any vote may be cast, no exceptions.

One argument that I find substantial against voter ID laws is that the United States already has a lower voter turnout than nearly every other democratic country in the world.  With that in consideration, why would we pass laws to make voting harder rather than easier, especially when voter fraud is not a significant problem in the United States?

Even so, if we require state-issued ID to purchase age-restricted products, board a plane, or even get a job, then there is valid reason to require ID when casting a vote. Voting is a right that we are granted as American citizens, and as American citizens we should protect that right. Requiring ID simply provides proof of citizenship and residency in a given jurisdiction.

Perhaps the solution to this bigger problem is that as a country, we must do a better job educating citizens on how to register to vote and how to access identification if they do not already have proper documentation. Voter ID laws are still evolving.  It may take a couple decades to solidify the effects of any legislation.  All things considered, it does not seem unreasonable to require people to provide proof of identification to cast a ballot, especially when polling suggests that three quarters of Americans support voter ID laws.  What will likely be interesting is how our country decides to combat Immigration Reform, and the effects it will have on voter ID laws in the United States.