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This House believes that democratic governments should require voters to present photo identification at the polling station.
This House believes that democratic governments should require voters to present photo identification at the polling station.
Voter identification laws are controversial precisely because they touch on one of the most fundamental political rights—voting. These laws concern a simple policy that revolves around difficult factual questions, over which there is much disagreement. Is voter fraud a real problem? Do voter ID laws cause a downturn in voter turnout? If so, does it prevent any particular demographic from voting more than others? There have been many studies on these questions, often with contradictory conclusions. The Economist wrote of this debate, “Neither side has much evidence.” A more accurate assessment would be that neither side has much conclusive evidence.
In the United States, the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) required that all voters show identification, either when they register or the first time they vote, but not necessarily after that. Many states have already passed laws that go further, though, requiring identification each time voters go to the polls. Several challenges to these voter identification laws have been mounted in the United States. Famously in 1966, the Supreme Court struck down the poll tax in Harper v. Bd. of Elections of Virginia, but upheld the lawfulness of voter identification requirements, as long as they are “even handed.” Most recently in 2008, in the Indiana case of Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the U.S. Supreme Court held that voter identification requirements are permissible and do not violate the U.S. Constitution.
Most democracies around the world require a form of identification at the polling station. Most of them also, however, provide this identification as part of a system of “automatic and permanent” voter registration. In the United States, this is not the case. Although a majority of U.S. states require some form of voter identification at the polling station, what is required varies widely. Some require a signature, some will accept any form of identification, such as an employee or student card, while some demand a photo ID card issued by the state itself (such as a driving license). Debating the issue at a country or U.S.-state level will mean both sides have to be clear about the local rules or proposals. For a broader debate on the principle of the idea, it may be best for the proposition to simply advocate photo ID cards as a standard requirement, while specifying whether the ID must be issued by the state. Because this issue is most contentious in the United States, it is likely that many examples will come from there, but there is room for exploration into electoral systems where the issue is less publicized.
|Points For||Points Against|
|Requiring voter identification is a practical way of combating the bureaucratic errors and logistical barriers that cause votes to go uncounted.||Voter ID laws inconvenience people out of voting, thus lowering turnout rates.|
|Voter identification laws are necessary to combat the serious danger of voter fraud.||Voting identification schemes are prone to the high level of errors associated with any bureaucratic system.|
|It should not be easier to cheat the electoral process than it is to cheat the many everyday activities that require identification.||The government needs a compelling reason to justify infringing upon the fundamental right of voting.|
|Requiring voter identification is the proven international standard.||These laws disproportionately prevent poor and minority communities from voting, because they are less likely to have photo ID or the money needed to obtain it.|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
Requiring voter identification is a practical way of combating the bureaucratic errors and logistical barriers that cause votes to go uncounted.
In the United States, there are currently very different identification requirements for voting from state to state, meaning that people often lose their vote when they change their place of residence. All states could require a photo ID, or the country could adopt a national voter identification standard, based on the 2008 federal standards for American driving licenses (often called the "Real ID Card"). These actions would ensure against voter fraud and make it easier for people to maintain an active citizenship. In addition to cutting down on lost votes, this system would make the electoral process more legitimate in the eyes of the public, a factor that could itself raise voter turnout.Improve this
If a country were to simply require IDs, it would discriminate against less-well-off people who are less likely to have ID, and with a national voting identification system, it would infringe upon its citizens' privacy. There are several objections to a national voting identification standard. In the United States, voting procedures are administered by the states, and the federal government should not interfere in their affairs. If uniformity were desirable, it would be better to scrap all voter identification laws, returning to the previous situation, in which you simply register to vote when you move and don't need special identification at the polling booth. Finally, a national identity card is in itself an invasion of privacy, leading the way to a police state and the dangers associated with poor data management on the part of the government, including identity theft. Especially in an age when all of this information would be stored on internet databases, the risk of hackers accessing a national identification system is too high.Improve this
Voter identification laws are necessary to combat the serious danger of voter fraud.
There is a long history of voter impersonation throughout the United States, where there have been varying levels of identification laws. In their book, Dirty Little Secrets: The Persistence of Corruption in American Politics, Larry Sabato and Glenn Simpson write, "For much of the last century and a good part of this century, elections in many states and localities became contests of the voting fraud capacities of various factions and parties."1 They go on to cite many cases of fraud throughout history, from New York City in 1844 to California in 1996. One recent example of voter fraud was in 2010 in the U.K., where identification is not required, when the Daily Mail published claims of a "massive postal-vote rigging," and a journalist for the Independent was allegedly beat while investigating fraud in eastern London2.
Voter fraud not only interferes with individual elections, but also undermines voter confidence in representative government generally. Identification requirements are the most direct and effective way of combating election fraud. As such, states have a compelling interest in implementing these laws. Even in cases where evidence of voter fraud has not yet been proven, it can logically be assumed that an electoral system will have more integrity if voters are required to show identification. Regardless of actual cases of voter fraud, a system with identification laws will encourage higher voter turnout, because citizens will perceive the system as having more integrity. Voter fraud exists, but evidence of its occurrence in the specific place where voter identification requirements are being considered is not necessary in order to justify the new laws; voters should have to identify themselves no matter what.
1 Rant World Blog. "A Brief History of U.S. Vote Fraud." November 12, 2004. Accessed July 6, 2011.
.2 Economist. "Going postal: Electoral fraud is not a problem confined to distant countries." May 6. 2010.
Voter fraud is a vastly exaggerated problem used in the United States as a smokescreen for a growing conservative strategy of disenfranchising poor and minority voters. If voter impersonation were such a grave problem, the government would prosecute violators. Although the Department of Justice poured unprecedented resources into voter fraud prevention under the Bush Administration, they did not prosecute a single offender, finding "no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections."1 Independent studies on voter fraud as well have found strikingly little evidence of it occurring in U.S. elections. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice, at the New York University School of Law, found that only 0.0009 of the votes in the 2004 elections in Washington were fraudulent2. In advance of Crawford v. Marion County, the Brennan Center filed an amicus brief saying that "impersonation fraud is an extremely unlikely and unsubstantiated occurrence that can be prevented without requiring a photo ID."3 This is an incredibly small number, and one not worthy of infringing on voting rights for.
Even in very tight elections there is no evidence that voting fraud affects the outcome. This implies that in the United States, the true purpose behind these laws is to resurrect Jim Crow-era barriers to voting for poor and minority communities, who are more likely to vote Democrat.
1 Lipton, Eric, and Ian Urbina. "In 5-Year Effort, Scant Evidence of Voter Fraud." New York Times. April 12, 2007.
. 2 Brennan Center for Justice. "Policy Brief on the Truth About 'Voter Fraud.'" September 2006. Accessed July 5, 2011.
3 Brennan Center for Justice. "Crawford v. Marion County Election Board." April 28, 2008. Accessed July 5, 2011.
It should not be easier to cheat the electoral process than it is to cheat the many everyday activities that require identification.
People are already required to produce valid identification for a whole range of activities that are less important than casting a vote, such as going to the gym or buying a drink. Why is voting the only activity where we make it easy to cheat the system? The claims that voter identification laws are discriminatory, or that they would discourage people from voting are silly because so many aspects of everyday life require photo identification, that this would not realistically discourage people from voting.Improve this
It is false to imply that presenting a photo ID would be easy for everybody. Although voting is a very important process for the health of a democracy, it is not necessarily a priority for many citizens, and so even the smallest barriers can be damaging. The idea that everybody uses photo identification all of the time is not true, especially for less-well-off people. Not everybody takes air planes or has a gym membership or owns a car. Ultimately, it doesn't matter how easy other aspects of life are; what matters is the effect that voter identification laws would have on the electoral process.Improve this
Requiring voter identification is the proven international standard.
Studies have shown that nearly 100 countries around the world have photo identification requirements for voting, so the USA would not be unique in asking its citizens to provide proof of their identity at the polling station. This also suggests that it is not too difficult to organise voting IDs, as democracies much poorer than the United States succeed in doing so. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who is currently Co-Chair of the Commission on Federal Election Reform, is a Democrat who supports voter identification laws. He points out, “Mexico and most poor democracies in the world have been able to register and give IDs to almost all their citizens.” Indeed, it is bizarre to many election experts around the world that the United Kingdom and many parts of the United States do not require identification. Innocent Chukwuma, an election monitor who has observed elections in Nigeria and the UK said, of the UK system, “If you had this system in Nigeria, the outsiders would say the potential for abuse would be massive.” Meanwhile voter identification has been a challenge worth meeting for most of the world. Even India—by far the largest democracy in the world—created in 2009 the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which will provide a national identity card to all Indians, which they can use at polling stations. Countries around the world have set the standard by proving that voter identification laws are practical ways of improving the integrity of elections. Those countries that have not yet adopted the system should do so.
 Fair Vote, “Voter ID Requirements.”
Many of the countries that require voter identification cards are not full democracies, and those that are have automatic and permanent registration systems that provide the IDs for free, which is not the case in the United States. In these systems, IDs can become a political weapon, with supporters of opposition parties being denied votes through government manipulation of the registration system and biased checks at polling stations. It is also notable that such a comparable democracy as Great Britain does not have voter identification requirements. Thus the record for voter identification systems is mixed throughout the world, and the fact that these laws are popular internationally does not make them a good idea.Improve this
Voter ID laws inconvenience people out of voting, thus lowering turnout rates.
In addition to being discriminatory, these laws will cause the overall voter turnout to decrease. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 21 million Americans do not have government-issued photo ID1. Considering so many people already don't vote, it is common sense that not all 21 million of those people will get an ID to vote. They may not know that the law has changed, or may forget, or may not care enough to get one. Even people who do have IDs might not remember to bring them on election day. The negative effect of these laws on voter turnout has been observed: a study of the 2004 elections in the United States showed that voter turnout decreased as identification laws became stricter2. An electoral system must be fair, and voter ID laws are not required to make it so. All further policy should be to encourage more people to vote, and these laws do the opposite.
1 ACLU. "Voter ID." Accessed July 5, 2011.
2, 13-14Timothy Vercellotti and David Anderson, "Protecting the franchise, or restricting it? The effects of voter identification requirements on turnout," (paper prepared for presentation at the 2006 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia, PA, August 31
There is insufficient evidence to claim that voter ID laws actually have any negative effect on voter turnout. While it is possible that some people would not vote as a result of the laws, it is equally possible that more people will vote because they believe the system has more integrity. A recent study in the Election Law Journal1, conducted by opponents of Voter ID laws, found insufficient evidence that voter identification laws had any negative effect on voter turnout. The evidence regarding voter turnout is inconclusive, and voter ID laws could just as likely cause an increase in turnout as a decrease.
1 Erikson, Robert, and Lorraine Minnite. "Modeling Problems in the Voter Identification
Voting identification schemes are prone to the high level of errors associated with any bureaucratic system.
Even people who bring the correct ID to the polling station may be disenfranchised as a result of misspellings on the part of the government agents who issued the documents, clerical errors over dates, duplications, or problems in the transmission of data between different levels of government. Women who have recently married and so changed their name are also prone to being denied a vote. Even people who have photo ID are less likely to vote if they are required to bring it, because the process will appear more burdensome and they might not have the ID with them on election day.Improve this
It is easy for voters to acquire photo identification if they don't already have it. Most states with voter identification laws make it easy for those without current forms of photo ID to obtain them from the government, either free of charge or very cheaply. This would additionally benefit less educated and less-well-off citizens who are currently most likely to lack valid forms of photo ID, and who suffer a range of problems —unrelated to voting—as a result. For example, they may face very high fees for cashing a check without a formal means of identification, or suffer problems in applying for state benefits. A system in which the state would provide IDs would actually solve a number of problems for people who don’t currently have them. Finally, if citizens know that they already have what they need to vote, they will be more to do so, boosting turnoutImprove this
The government needs a compelling reason to justify infringing upon the fundamental right of voting.
The interest in preventing voter fraud is not compelling enough to warrant disenfranchising citizens. In many states, voter ID laws will completely prevent certain people from voting. With little-to-no evidence of voter fraud, it is not justified to discourage the estimated 21 million Americans who do not currently have state ID from voting. Although these laws allow citizens to vote by provisional ballot, this measure is largely meaningless because voters are then required to travel to the county seat and submit an affidavit in order for their vote to be counted. The fraud prevention rationale should not trump the right to vote.Improve this
Voting is an essential right, but it can be more strongly regulated by the government if there is an important reason. In 1966, when the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the poll tax in the case Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections1, it still upheld "even handed restrictions" that protect "the integrity and reliability of the electoral process itself." This standard was again upheld in 2008 in Crawford vs. Marion County2. Voter ID laws clearly fit this criterion, because they increase the integrity and reliability of the process, while treating all voters equally. That is exactly the conclusion that the Crawford decision came to.br>Voting rights are in fact hardly affected by Voter ID laws. In most states, voters who lack identification can still cast provisional ballots to be checked and counted later. The ID requirement is a mere inconvenience, not a complete barrier to voting. The government's interest in preventing voter fraud greatly outweighs the minor inconvenience caused.
1 Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections, 383 U. S. 663 (1966).
2 Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 553 U.S. 181 (2008).
These laws disproportionately prevent poor and minority communities from voting, because they are less likely to have photo ID or the money needed to obtain it.
Federal passports are not cheap. Although most states do not charge to issue ID, some states do. Furthermore, poor individuals, especially the homeless, are less likely to have the required documents (such as birth certificates, driving licenses, social security cards, etc.). Since African-American voters are disproportionately poor, the law discriminatorily prevents these populations from voting. The Heritage Foundation found in a study that in the worst cases, African-American voters were six times less likely to vote because of voter ID laws than White voters. A study by the Voting Technology Project—a joint initiative of Caltech and MIT—found that stricter forms of voter identification depress turnout for less educated and lower income voters.
 Muhlhausen and Sikich, “New Analysis Shows Voter Identification Laws Do Not Reduce Turnout,” Heritage Foundation, September 11, 2007.
Voter identification laws are not discriminatory because they apply uniformly to all state residents. The laws require everyone to obtain valid photo identification (ID), and therefore cannot be said to target poor and minority communities. Most of the required IDs can be obtained free of charge or, like the Driving License, are held by most voting-age Americans already. The rationale behind these laws is to increase fairness and confidence in American democracy.
Although the Heritage study found that there is sometimes a discrepancy between African-American voters and White voters, even in the worst of those cases, the actual number of people who don't vote as a result is miniscule. The study shows that White voters are 0.002% less likely to vote if there is a voter ID law than without the law, while African-American voters are 0.012% less likely to do so1. Even for African-American voters, this is only slightly more than 1 in every 10,000 voters. These laws are fair and their intention is not to discriminate, but rather to increase the integrity of an outdated system.
1 Muhlhausen, David, and Keri Weber Sikich. "New Analysis Shows Voter Identification Laws Do Not Reduce Turnout." Heritage Foundation. September 11, 2007.
Vercellotti, Timothy, and David Anderson. “Protecting the franchise, or restricting it? The effects of voter identification requirements on turnout” 2006 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia, PA, August 31 – September 3, 2006.
Proposition:Fund, John. Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy. San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2004.
Sabato, Larry, and Glenn R. Simpson. Dirty Little Secrets: The Persistence of Corruption in American Politics. New York: Times Books, 1996.
Overton, Spencer. Stealing Democracy: The New Politics of Voter Suppression, New York: Norton, 2006.
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