Voter ID laws have been in America’s lexicon since the early 2000s, when a 2005 commission, led by President Jimmy Carter, called for photo IDs for all voters to eliminate some of the controversies surrounding the previous two presidential elections. The commission also wanted the government to provide free IDs for the 12% of Americans who did not have them at the time, but that part of the report was ignored. The Republican Party began passing Voter ID requirements in numerous states, and as of now, 35 states have some form of identification requirement in order to vote. These measures have remained very popular, with 80% of Americans favoring ID requirements in a 2016 poll.
Democrats have attacked these requirements as a form of voter suppression against minorities, even though studies have found that they have little to no impact on voter turnout. One study also found that it has done little to eliminate voter fraud in the United States, mostly because voter fraud is statistically nonexistent in the nation. Combined with the fact that it takes time and effort to secure an ID card, voter ID laws seem to be more trouble than they are worth.
The ongoing debate over voter ID laws misses the broader concern that IDs in general are not widespread or accessible enough. People need IDs to open bank accounts, buy guns, and apply for welfare, among countless other tasks. Even still, tens of millions of Americans have no form of ID. In this way, Democratic criticisms of ID laws are warranted, considering that 16% of Latinos and 25% of Blacks of voting age would not be able to present an ID or driver’s license at the poll. This does not affect vote counts as people without IDs are not as likely to be politically active regardless of Voter ID laws, which in part explains why less than 60% of Americans participate in elections. There is also an untold economic and social impact that minority communities have faced because of the lack of identification.
Rather than viewing the barriers to IDs as reasons to bury this issue under the guise of voting rights, Democrats should work with Republicans to make it easier to acquire IDs, both for voting and other purposes. ID laws are often compared to poll taxes because many states require fees to obtain one, which is a compelling argument. President Carter’s recommendations should be implemented in full, and all such fees should be eliminated. In addition, more than 1 million voters simply live too far away from ID issuing offices to obtain them, disenfranchising them in many states.
In the 21st century, every American should have some form of ID to go about their daily lives, and it should be the government’s job to provide one for every citizen. Voter ID laws might not do anything in practice to restrict voting, but they may be another reason to finally provide every American with an ID, which should be required in a developed nation.