A Good Debate: Proof Positive
Given the risks of voter fraud and election interference, voter ID is needed now more than ever
By Amy Koch
On its face, requiring a voter to present valid ID before receiving his or her ballot should be a relatively uncontroversial ask—especially compared to the many legitimately polarizing policy conundrums facing our state and nation today. After all, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures in May, Minnesota is one of only 16 states that do not require voters to present any form of ID at the polls.
With allegations of foreign meddling and discoveries of equipment vulnerabilities, the integrity of our elections is on the line. And with the explosive popularity of initiatives like early voting, a voter ID requirement is needed now more than ever. If we are serious about protecting each citizen’s vote and inspiring confidence in our American democracy, we must seriously consider a voter ID requirement. Participating in fair and free elections is a constitutional guarantee for every American, but illegal voting undermines that fundamental right. In March 2018, the Office of the Legislative Auditor, working with county election officials and attorneys, concluded that “Minnesota needs to upgrade its aging computerized voter registration system and take steps to better help county election officials identify people who aren’t eligible to vote.” The audit found 69 cases of voter fraud over the past two years. And that’s a very conservative total, given that it doesn’t account for every instance of people, such as felons, voting illegally. As the auditors observed in a story that aired on WCCO 4 earlier this year, reform is needed to help catch those who “slip through the cracks of the existing system.”
Absent reasonable precautions and measures to prevent abuse, it is impossible for the electoral system to inspire confidence.
Not only is requiring ID a logical remedy to this problem, but it would cause virtually no change for the millions of Minnesotans who already have valid government ID, such as a driver’s license or permit, ID card, passport, or military ID. For those without valid, government-issued ID, many voter ID proposals—including the one Minnesotans rejected in a 2012 referendum— would require the State Department of Motor Vehicles to issue free identification cards to all citizens.
While opponents of voter ID suggest that such a requirement would be a burden that gives voters a reason to stay home on Election Day, the best evidence suggests otherwise. A 2008 study by the University of Missouri found that voter turnout in Indiana actually increased following the state’s decision to require identification for voting.
By an overwhelming percentage, Americans already have some form of government-issued ID, which they use to drive a car, enter a government building, pay bills, buy alcohol, and check into a hotel. This sort of reliance on state-issued identification means that asking an individual to present documentation for something as significant as voting is beyond reasonable. And for those American citizens who lack valid identification, there are lowand no-cost options available in nearly every state, including Minnesota.
Opponents of voter ID requirements argue that eliminating Minnesota’s current system, which allows a registered voter to vouch for an unregistered voter in the same precinct, would effectively dismantle same-day registration and, as a result, disenfranchise citizens who may not have planned ahead. But if voters who lacked valid identification could be allowed to cast a provisional ballot until such time as their identity is confirmed, the burden of proving eligibility would shift from the state to the voter. As it stands, an unchecked vouching system is an invitation for abuse.
Minnesota already operates an effective mail-in system of voting for those who cannot cast a ballot on Election Day, allowing voters to cast provisional ballots in lieu of direct Election Day participation. Once the identity and eligibility of the votes are verified, the absentee ballots are counted. Extending that system to Election Day voting would have a profound impact on the integrity of the election results and come at a minimal cost.
Simply put, we need a reliable system in place to deter and detect fraud by verifying each voter’s identity and eligibility to participate. Research suggests thata voter ID requirement ups the public’s confidence in election results—a confidence that could drive up voter turnout and reinforce trust in our democratic principles. Open, fair, and free elections are synonymous with the democratic process, but absent reasonable precautions and measures to prevent abuse, it is impossible for the electoral system to inspire confidence.
Back & Forth
QUESTIONS FOR AMY KOCH
Q: How do you respond to the criticism that those who advocate for voter ID disingenuously inflate or exaggerate the risks?
AK: I don’t think we disingenuously inflate. I think we acknowledge that there is some question when it comes to our vouching system—which sets a pretty low bar—and that it’s awfully hard to track all forms of fraud. So, really, I don’t think it’s possible to know how much fraud is taking place. Now, I think it’s potentially a bigger problem than we like to admit. But ultimately, I think it’s about what the state’s legislative auditor said recently: that Minnesota’s antiquated system needs to be upgraded to restore integrity to the system. Why wouldn’t we do that? Why shouldn’t we keep up with the times? We have the technology to put a tighter rein on potential fraud. I just don’t see how that’s a bad thing.
Q: In your essay, you refer to research suggesting that voter ID increases the public’s confidence in elections. Could you say a bit about where that research was done and what, specifically, it revealed?
AK: The data was collected in Indiana during the 2008 election, which saw an increase in voter turnout. Now, I also recognize that numbers are numbers and that the uptick could’ve been impacted by a number of factors, including [then-candidate Barack] Obama’s presence on the ballot, which attracted a lot of new voters. I get that it’s all arguable. But voter ID can’t help increase people’s confidence in the process, particularly these days, where there are all kinds of talk about fraud and election engineering and outside influences. Americans have become a bit more cynical, so it’s imperative that we update and upgrade the system to ensure that voters have confidence that our most important right is being protected.
We have the technology to put a tighter rein on potential fraud. I just don’t see how that’s a bad thing.
Q: For some citizens, securing an ID will involve acquiring supporting documentation, which can be time-consuming and expensive. For poor and minority voters in that situation, does voter ID function as a poll tax?
AK: There are so many places now that require a valid ID, and for very good reason. So that argument really isn’t about voting. It’s about ensuring that folks who need to have access to ID for all sorts of things have the means to do so. The intent behind voter ID is not to disenfranchise voters. In fact, it’s just the opposite. We just need to continue to ensure that people can access IDs for little or no cost, which is already the case in Minnesota.
Q: There’s a school of thought that voting is an absolute right, and anything that hinders that right is unconstitutional. How do you respond to this legal argument?
AK: I agree. The right to vote is absolute, 100 percent. But what does get in the way of that right is when someone votes fraudulently. Which is why we need some modicum of a requirement to ensure that someone is who they say they are. Because to make sure that my vote counts, and that your vote counts, and that the vote of anyone who is reading this counts, [we have] to make sure that those who are trying to vote fraudulently don’t get away with it. Again, we’re simply talking about upgrading the system, modernizing the system, bringing the system into 2019 and beyond. That we make sure voting is accessible, that legitimate votes count, and that voters and elections officials know that those who aren’t supposed to vote won’t be allowed to.