It’s surprising how rarely I’m actually asked to produce a photo ID aside from when I catch a flight or rent a car. Even my bank now uses my ATM card and PIN as identification. In fact, a lot of people, especially retired persons who rarely travel and those without a car, don’t really need an ID, so some of them just don’t go to the unnecessary hassle and expense of getting or renewing one. Estimates are that around 11 percent of the adult population lacks an unexpired photo ID.
Which is why it’s a problem that a number of states have passed laws requiring voters to show photo IDs. If you have an ID this may seem like a reasonable requirement. After all, we don’t want people to vote under a false name. But in reality, that hardly ever happens anyway, probably because in-person voter fraud is one of the least effective ways to tamper with an election. (It’s easier to tamper with the tabulation or reporting of returns.)
What this means is that in actual practice, voter ID laws actually damage the integrity of elections by blocking tremendously more valid votes than fraudulent ones.
Unfortunately, some politicians have a hidden incentive to want to block those legitimate votes: Voters who are older or poorer are more likely to vote for Democrats.
The New York Times published an editorial about this last October 9 titled “The Myth of Voter Fraud.” It’s worth reading. Among other things, it reports:
In Kansas, the secretary of state, Kris Kobach (who also wrote Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant law), pushed for an ID law on the basis of a list of 221 reported instances of voter fraud in Kansas since 1997. Even if that were true, it would be an infinitesimal percentage of the votes cast during that period, but it is not true.
When The Wichita Eagle looked into the local cases on the list, the newspaper found that almost all were honest mistakes: a parent trying to vote for a student away at college, or signatures on mail-in ballots that didn’t precisely match those on file. In one case of supposed “fraud,” a confused non-citizen was asked at the motor vehicles bureau whether she wanted to fill out a voter registration form, and did so not realizing she was ineligible to vote.
In fact, allegations of election fraud almost never have anything to do with the type of fraud that would be prevented by requiring photo IDs.