I occasionally hear the question expressed, “Why is it a big deal to provide a photo ID for voting?” For those who are privileged to have a driver’s license, who have funds available to pay for birth certificates and other documents and who have ready access to transportation, securing a photo ID seems a simple matter. However, securing a photo ID is not a simple matter for everyone and can be a big deal. Some are challenged due to aging, different abilities, poverty, youth, and other factors such as changes of address or name as with marriage. Statistics show these factors may affect at least 10 percent or more of eligible voters. As many as 30 percent of African American citizens of voting age do not have a government-issued photo ID.
Voting is a fundamental right and a privilege — nothing is more fundamental to our democracy than the right to vote. Groups historically denied access to the right to vote and to fully participate in democracy, e.g. African Americans and women, as addressed in the Constitution and the 1st, 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th Amendments to the Constitution, may feel the impact of photo ID requirements more negatively than those who have traditionally had fuller access to privilege and power.
I hear urban legends of deceased individuals voting and of individuals voting in cities hundreds of miles apart. Research does not show voting abuse to be significant. Justin Levitt, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, reported in the Washington Post Aug. 6, 2014, that a comprehensive investigation of voter impersonation between 2000 and 2014 found 31 credible incidents out of 1 billion ballots cast. Levitt believes matching names from one computer list to another, data entry, confusion between people with the same name, or signing on the wrong line in a poll book is at fault for some of the 31 cases, including the one in North Carolina. Fraud by an individual voter is of little statistical significance overall.
My sense is that those who strongly support photo ID believe that fraud will be eliminated. Statistically voter fraud is a myth rather than a fact. Photo ID can serve to limit voting by those whose voices are least heard. Do we want a democracy with full participation or do we want lower and lower voter turnout with an oligarchy in which a few run the government?
From 12.2.15 Times News Letter-to-the-Editor, by Dana Courtney, Alamance NAACP Political Action Chair