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As Election Day nears, along with the voter registration deadline (Oct. 8, a week from Monday), the process of voting is again in the spotlight.
Several states are following Georgia in requiring voters to show a photo identification at the polls. Similar rules are in place in many states. Now the courts are left to decide if that requirement is constitutional. Reviews of Georgia’s statute, passed in 2005, have allowed it to stand.
In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court last week ruled that a lower court must determine if the ID law would deny voters the right to cast a ballot. "Disenfranchised" is the pejorative term often used in this debate.
The argument against the law made its way to the stage at the Democratic National Convention, where several speakers, including Georgia U.S. Rep. John Lewis, argued that voter ID laws are a Republican plot to suppress poor and minority voters. He and others likened it to the "poll tax" used to discourage black citizens from voting in the pre-Civil Rights era.
We can’t say for sure what motivated lawmakers to pass these laws. If it was political, that comes as no surprise, seeing as politicians usually are prompted to act in any way that benefits them politically. Both sides are guilty of such when the opportunity arises to favor their supporters over the other side’s.
Politics aside, the bigger questions in determining the laws’ validity are these: Is there enough concern about voter fraud to enact such rules? And when such laws are put in place, do they deny voters access to the polls?
Facts show no evidence that either is the case, despite the rousing debate.
"I think the rhetoric on both sides has been overstated," said Edward Foley, executive director of an election law center at Ohio State University.
It’s true there has been no reported rash of ineligible voters trying to cast ballots under false pretenses. It’s unlikely that those who are felons, here illegally, underage or otherwise ineligible are plotting to cast shady votes, perhaps more inclined to focus their energies on less civic-minded pursuits.
Yet Democrats make a point when they say the same level of scrutiny should apply to absentee ballots that could be abused — provided it doesn’t deny access to U.S. military personnel overseas, whose votes should be counted.
That said, a case can be made that strong laws to ensure voter credibility can discourage potential fraud before it happens. Even if it is rare, it isn’t something we should tolerate.
So does the requirement of a photo ID turn away voters who might not have one? Apparently that, too, is a straw man created to oppose the idea.
A review of turnout levels since Georgia’s law went into effect shows an increase in minority voter participation in recent elections, and in greater percentages than the population at large. And while there is little evidence of fraud, there are likewise few, if any, cases in which legal voters were denied the right to cast a ballot.
It’s true some 1,500 in Georgia have cast ballots that were not counted because an ID was not presented, and were deemed provisional until one was produced. In those cases, the voters did not return to show an ID. Either they didn’t have one, simply gave up or they weren’t who they said they were; if that’s the case, the law worked as intended.
It’s clear, then, that a large majority of voters possess a photo ID, which the state has provided free for thousands. One wonders how anyone can get by without one, as a photo ID is necessary for banking, signing a lease and any number of other daily tasks.
It may takes a little effort to get an ID card, sure, but so does the act of registering and going to the polls. Anyone not willing to put in time and energy for this vital public duty may not be the kind of informed voter who will learn about the issues and candidates in order to choose wisely.
It’s also a bit disingenuous to claim that young, old and minority voters are less likely to take the time to get an ID and cast a ballot. Seniors traditionally are among the most diligent voters, and young people have turned out in big numbers in some elections. When the campaigns matter to people and the candidates address their needs and concerns effectively, voters from all walks of life will respond.
Voting has become much more convenient in many ways. Early voting now gives us three weeks to cast a ballot, including one Saturday every election. It is easier than ever to register online or in libraries, tag offices, post offices and other government buildings.
That’s as it should be. Government should make every effort to encourage citizens to take an active role in selecting its leaders. And once reasonable access and requirements are in place, it’s up to us to make the effort to do it, and do it right.
Proving we are who we claim to be doesn’t seem to be too much to ask.