Voter ID laws: necessary or overkill?

I don’t think there’s many people who don’t have some kind of opinion about the recent spate of Voter ID laws that have been enacted over the past 5-6 years.  As it’s all been one-sided, these laws carry the appearance of being enacted for purposes other than their stated intent.  Last week, a prominent Republican and likely presidential candidate, Sen. Rand Paul spoke out about the voter ID laws to a group of Black pastors while he was in Memphis, TN.

From the New York Times on May 9th:

MEMPHIS — Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky broke Friday with fellow Republicans who have pushed for stricter voting laws as a way to crack down on fraud at the polls, saying that the focus on such measures alienates and insults African-Americans and hurts the party.

“Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing,” Mr. Paul said in an interview. “I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.”

Mr. Paul becomes the most prominent member of his party — and among the very few — to distance himself from the voting restrictions and the campaign for their passage in states under Republican control, including North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, that can determine presidential elections. Civil rights groups call the laws a transparent effort to depress black turnout.

This didn’t make all the major news reports, likely because it was a part of the Friday afternoon news dump where news goes to hide.  I didn’t say much about it then because I’ve learned to wait a few days, or maybe even a week, before contemplating what would be such a “Profile in Courage” moment if Sen. Paul actually stuck to his guns.  It seems as though I didn’t have to wait long.

From Politico on May 14th:

Sen. Rand Paul is clarifying his recent comments that Republicans should lay off voter ID laws, saying now that there’s nothing wrong with tackling the issue.

“There’s nothing wrong with it. … I don’t really object to having some rules with how we vote,” Paul said on the Sean Hannity radio show on Tuesday.

The Kentucky Republican said his earlier comments “kind of got overblown in the wrong way.”

Last week, Paul was quoted in The New York Times as critical of Republicans pursuing voter ID laws. “Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing,” he told the paper at the time. “I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.”

On Hannity’s show, Paul, who has often talked about the need to develop a more inclusive and racially diverse Republican Party, said the GOP should should focus on its efforts to help minorities vote.

“I know about voter fraud and that there have to be rules and states have the ability to do it,” Paul said. “But I’ve also said Republicans should be emphasizing the good things we’re trying to do to try to help minorities vote instead of the things many minorities feel is directed at them, rightly or wrongly. … So I do object to overemphasizing something that is turning people off.”

I figured we’d get the classic clarification walk back.  Not that I don’t blame Sen. Paul as he has a very strong and opinionated base to deal with, but I would tend to agree with his initial statement vs the walk back with no problem as I think the ID laws have gone overboard.  As the laws have been getting put on hold or struck down as they’re challenged, it seems as though the courts tend to agree with Sen. Paul’s initial statement as well.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to ID voters.  What is wrong is selling that idea based on the notion of some huge fraud scheme that needs to be defeated.  Requesting ID for in-person voting on election day or early voting only deals with fraud in a single form, in-person fraud.  Research done by a reporting group, News21, covered a time period where more than 146 million votes were cast in the US and found only 10 cases of in-person voting fraud.  There’s more fraud in absentee voting and registration than in-person voting, but the ID laws do nothing to address registration or absentee voting.

If the GOP wants to enact ID laws, that’s on them.  If they want to do something sensible that would be hard to argue against, they need to address the entire voting process.  Here’s a few quick suggestions that I would offer up if I were part of a focus group.

  1. Secure the registration process.  If you can’t ensure that registrations are thoroughly vetted and correct, no amount of trying to ID someone would uncover fraud if the ID is a valid ID for a phony person registered under that name.  I would put registration under the Secretary of State’s office or whatever office controls the election process of the state.  To avoid any issues, I’d even consider spinning it off to a non-partisan, non-politician controlled group.
  2. Issue your Voter ID with completed registration.  I would suggest a two-part biometric and electronic card for security issues as well as updating ability.  Use an electronic card with a sim chip to record biometric and pertinent data.  Issue a second card, something like a laminated card, with the name, photo, and fingerprint of the voter so that the information on the laminated card matches the electronic card.  Instead of using a pre-determined finger, allow the voter to select their own finger for security purposes with only the voter knowing which finger was used.  You can’t impersonate a fingerprint when you don’t know which one of the ten needs to be counterfeited.
  3. At the poll, use a fingerprint scanner to match the prints on the two cards so that you have to match all three to vote.  When the vote is cast, update the voter list to make that name inactive for that election so that no additional vote can be cast under that name.  You could even use an online database where the person can go back to review their choices or print out a paper receipt as a backup.
  4. For absentee ballots, require them to be notarized by a certified Notary that has been given the ability to check the identity just as poll workers would.  They could then be sealed on the spot to ensure security until they’re opened by election officials.

That’s just my idea of how to do ID laws to prevent fraud without abridging a person’s Constitutional right to vote.  Putting that into effect would deal with the crazy without having to walk back anything afterwards.


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10 thoughts on “Voter ID laws: necessary or overkill?

  1. As I’ve said before, I think putting a picture on a voter registration card would be the easiest and most cost effective thing to do. You could have a phase-in period to give everybody ample time to comply.

    I’d keep the fingerprint thing as an option but at this point, not sure it’d be cost effective. Also, remember when they put fingerprints on drivers licenses here in GA? That went over like a fart in church. (You do have to be fingerprinted for a concealed carry permit, by the way).

    I agree with you that absentee ballots present the best opportunity for mischief. I’m not sure having a notary stamp it would make any difference, though. Although it’s completely illegal, notaries often stamp things without seeing the person sign. Trust me, this one happens every day. As a matter of fact, in my own experience, I’ve seen more things stamped without the notary seeing the person sign, than seeing it being done correctly.


    • I didn’t consider the cost of biometrics, but I think that is the best way to ensure that elections are secure. Most of the argument for ID laws is secured elections, so I’d like to do nothing more than to help the ID advocates.

      There are shenanigans with notaries, and I think that limiting who could notarize ballots would hopefully keep the potential for fraud to a minimum.

      I can’t understand why 2nd and 3rd world countries can issue an ID to voters but we can’t seem to replicate that.


        • There is THAT!!!

          I got your other message as well. I read about that, and I think you’re probably headed in the same general area that I was. I was thinking the issue was more along their own desires though.


        • Not sure I want the finger dip. I always refuse that silly little “I voted” sticker, as it is. Don’t really wanna advertise that I had anything to do with any of these clowns that get elected.

          I wonder how much all them little stickers cost? Seems like a waste of money to me. (If Hillbilly is anything, he’s cheap.)


          • My daughter loves the stickers. I haven’t told her that next Tuesday is election day either. If I tell her now, I’ll have to deal with hearing about it for the next couple of days. If I wait until Monday, then I’ll only have to take a day’s worth of reminders.


          • Whoopsie-doodle . . . sticker commentary fell down go boom at the bottom of the comments. My bad.


  2. To echo and expand upon NorthGAHillbilly’s comments, military ballots can also present opportunities for mischief. I don’t know what the rules are like now, but when I had to renew my driver’s license to vote in the 1990 midterms, I was stationed 5000 miles from home and really didn’t feel like flying back just to stand in line at the DMV to get mah pitcher took. Fortunately, my state of residence (at the time) would issue renewal licenses to active-duty military personnel (and spouses) with *no* photos on them. So instead of a head shot, there was a gray box bearing the motto “VALID WITHOUT PHOTO.” One wonders if a photo ID like that would give Georgia poll workers the vapors or what.
    It’s also worth pointing out that although most company-sized Army units (and I presume something similar is done in the other branches) appoint a Voting Services Officer to help young troopies secure absentee ballots and cast their votes, it’s kinda unreasonable, IMO, to expect some young lieutenant to be intimately familiar with the registration policies of all 50 states and assorted territories.
    Interesting addendum to the no-photo drivers’ license tale above — upon my Army discharge, my wife and I found ourselves with a few extra weeks of Army paychecks with nothing to do and nowhere to be before the summer college term commenced, so we shipped our car to the West Coast and simply drove the long way home. Curiously, while our DLs didn’t have photos on them, our credit cards *did,* which led to all sorts of fun when we tried to check into Days Inns or Super 8 motels on our way back East. Some motel clerks simply couldn’t believe my DL was real (my reply: yeah, that gray box; that’s me — see the resemblance?) and one clerk outside St. Louis even called a sheriff’s deputy to come give me and Wifey the third degree before he’d let us have a room. Fortunately, I had a document bag with every form of photo-bearing and non-photo-bearing ID known to man as well as four years of military paystubs, so the deputy (himself a Marine vet) eventually told the clerk to quit jerking an Army puke around and let us have a room.


    • Remember the old “I VOTED” stickers that looked like GA license plates?

      With an X-Acto knife, an ultra-fine point art pen and some patience, you can take a couple of those and make a new sticker that says “I VOMITED.”

      I cannot take credit for this idea; a couple of arty friends of mine came up with (and executed on) the concept. The results were very convincing-looking.


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