IT IS BECOMING increasingly clear that
the viability of this democratic republic is
dependent on confidence that election results
are fair and incontrovertible. When
there is doubt, when the vote is tainted, cynicism
is unleashed and our institutions are called
into question. Today, voter fraud has the potential
to determine who is elected. It begins with
registration vulnerabilities, where many states
require no proof of identification, and continues
with candidate’s petitions of registered voters
needed to get on the ballot. Voter registration
fraud leads to Election Day fraud, yet such allegations
rarely are investigated and perpetrators
often are let off with little or no consequences.
For instance, despite hundreds of allegations
referred to state police by election officials, and
at least 70 referred by state police to the Virginia
Commonwealth’s attorney after the 2008
election, only one voter fraud case appears to
have been investigated thoroughly. That case
took four years to prepare. After the 2012 indictment
of 10 convicted felons who illegally
registered to vote and subsequently voted while
knowing they were ineligible, the Commonwealth’s
attorney, Michael N. Herring, said that
he would seek no jail time for them. Herring also
dismissed the feasibility of identifying, or
prosecuting, the paid registration solicitors who
recruited the 10.
To prevent elections from being influenced
by substantial irregularities, valid and uniform
procedures for voting are needed across the
country. At the moment, too many Americans
are cynical about elections because of the reported
instances of voter fraud and election irregularities.
It is time to restore confidence in
the voting system. Taking steps to do so should
begin with a valid voter photo identification as
one of the most important components of those
reforms. This, though, is an institutional reform—
important, but not dispositive.
The nation needs cultural reform, a restored
belief that our vote makes a difference, that we
are not being held hostage to election bandits
stealing our birthright. Elections as a key feature
of our system of government must be pristine.
When the public believes votes are for
sale, cynicism enters the electoral equation and
a loss of political confidence results. As a consequence,
we see ourselves as federalists fighting
to restore the essential element of our political
system and to do so while the system still
can be saved.
Voting is an essential way self-government is
expressed in this democratic republic. When
we, the American people, vote and the results
are tallied, there should be confidence in the belief
that our collective voice is heard fairly and
unequivocally. However, the rules for ensuring
voter integrity in elections are not administered
The states’ legitimate obligation to prevent
election fraud has to be balanced with a reasonable
exceptions process for individuals who can
establish that they left their ID at home, or that
their wallet indeed was stolen. Many states now
can have greater confidence in verifying the
Voter ID
Laws Go
“Whether Attorney General Eric Holder
agrees that voter IDs are a tool for
preventing election fraud should be
of little consequence. It is clear that
reliable identity verification at the
polls as well as at voter registration
is desired by the public, and can
help restore confidence that our
elections are beyond reproach.”
identity of voters by referencing the state driver’s
license registry because of improvements
in that process. REAL ID security standards
have been adopted voluntarily by a majority of
states, and the public’s comfort level with
showing ID at airports has led many to become
comfortable with a similar confirmation of
identity at the polling place.
The high level of customer service provided
by state driver’s licensing agencies across the
U.S. affords almost everyone easy access to
state issued IDs and driver’s licenses at reasonable
cost and convenience. All states requiring
voter photo IDs provide them free to people
who attest that they cannot afford them. One
state sends mobile teams to visit the elderly and
the disabled in their homes in order to provide
them state issued IDs.
Enacted in 2002, the Help America Vote Act
(HAVA) stipulated quality control requirements
that states were expected to implement. Congress
also provided authorization for the National
Commission on Federal Election Reform
(the Carter-Baker Commission) to review state
progress in complying with HAVA. The Carter-
Baker Commission’s June 2007 report noted
that Commission recommendations, including
voter ID, ballot access, voter fraud, and “fundamental
problems that have afflicted America’s
election apparatus for decades—partisan control
of election administration and a general
lack of transparency and accountability—have
not changed.”
HAVA made requirements for voter IDs at
the poll clearly lawful, and explicitly authorized
states to require IDs for absentee voting. However,
HAVA is silent on the issue of allowing
states to require proof of identity to register for
general elections. The Carter-Baker Commission’s
recommendations subsequent to HAVA
actively urged states to enact voter ID requirements.
Two recent Federal court rulings in Gonzalez
v. Arizona have confirmed that states do
have that authority.
A nationwide poll run under the joint direction
of Anderson Robbins Research and Shaw
and Company Research provides insight into
current public views on voter photo ID laws.
The poll used random survey methodology and
live phone interviews proportional to the number
of voters in each state. The survey results released
earlier this year reveal that 70% of Americans
say they favor voter identification measures
“to stop illegal voting.” Amajority of Democrats
(52%), independents (72%) and Republicans
(87%) are behind voter ID laws as necessary.
The public remains concerned about the
need to confirm identity when people engage in
voting. According to a March 2011 Rasmussen
Report, “Voters in this country still overwhelmingly
support voter ID laws and don’t think they
discriminate.” Rasmussen surveys since 2006
consistently have shown more than two-thirds
of registered voters believe people should be required
to show photo identification—such as a
driver’s license—before being allowed to vote.
Prior to 2011, nine states enacted new voter
ID laws in recent years, and five states have ex-
panded existing laws to include photo IDs for
voters either as a base requirement or as a preferred
means of identification. In the past two
years, there has been a dramatic acceleration in
state interest, fueled by constituent concern. In
2011, 34 state legislatures considered voter photo
ID legislation. Thirteen of these passed voter
photo ID laws. Eight governors signed the new
laws. Virginia’s governor recently received Department
of Justice approval for a 2012 enacted
voter photo ID requirement.
Prior to 2012, four states had strict laws in
effect for voter photo ID: Kansas, Indiana,
Georgia, and Tennessee. Today, 31 states have a
requirement for voter IDs. (It may go to 32, as
the Virginia legislature has enacted a strict voter
photo ID law that the Governor has sent back
with suggested revisions to create allowances
for less reliable photo IDs.) Laws that establish
strict voter photo IDs have been enacted in seven
additional states within the past year: Alaska,
Rhode Island, Texas, Wisconsin, Mississippi,
Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.
The Texas, South Carolina, Alabama, and
Mississippi voter photo ID laws have been
blocked by the Department of Justice, and
Pennsylvania’s voter law has been suspended
for 2012, and will become effective in 2013.
The two most populous states, California
and New York, require no positive identification
at the polling place. In addition, the following
15 states have no requirement to present
IDs when voting: Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming,
New Mexico, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois,
West Virginia, North Carolina, Maine,
Vermont, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and
Maryland. The District of Columbia has no voter
ID law and there is no one advocating for
such a requirement.
State laws that require voters to present photo
IDs at the polls are, in fact, constitutional, according
to the Supreme Court’s Crawford v.
Marion County Election Board (2008) decision.
The Justices considered the Indiana voter
ID law that requires presentation of a state issued
driver’s license or a passport to vote. The
Supreme Court acknowledged that the National
Voting Rights Act of 1993 (Motor Voter Act),
by requiring that driver’s license applications be
considered voting registration, led to inflated
voting registration rolls. It explained that among
HAVA’s corrective actions to counter this voter
registration inflation with persons ineligible to
vote was the authority to require identification
to vote. The Court’s majority opinion stated:
“Congress believes that photo identification is
one effective method of establishing a voter’s
qualification to vote.”
Following 2004 criminal investigations of
election fraud in East Chicago, Ind., the state
legislature enacted a requirement that photo
identification be presented at the polls or when
voting absentee to confirm the person voting
was the same person who was registered to
vote. At the time, voter ID opponents charged
that it would depress voter turnout. In reality,
Indiana voter turnout increased by about two
percentage points overall in the 2006 election,
the first after the law went into effect. There
was no evidence that counties with high percentages
of minority, poor, elderly, or less-educated
populations suffered any reduction in voter
turnout whatsoever. According to a University
of Missouri study, “The only consistent and
statistically significant impact of photo ID in Indiana
is to increase voter turnout in counties
with a greater percentage of Democrats relative
to other counties.”
Rhode Island enacted important election reforms
in 2011, with support from Democrats
and Republicans. When Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a
registered Independent, signed it into law, he
stated: “Having reflected a great deal on the issue,
I believe that requiring identification at the
polling place is a reasonable request to ensure
the accuracy and integrity of our elections. . . . I
spoke with representatives of our state’s minority
communities, and I found their concerns
about voter fraud and their support for this bill
particularly compelling.”
Photo as ID
Although a majority of states currently have
voter ID laws, not all of those require exclusively
that the ID presented have a photo on it that
matches the face of the person presenting it.
However, the trend is in that direction. The
Carter-Baker Commission recommended requiring
a REAL ID compliant photo identification
for voting. The Commission said: “We
therefore propose an alternative path. Instead of
creating a new card, the Commission recommends
that states use ‘REAL ID’ cards for voting
“The REAL ID Act, signed into law in May
2005, requires states to verify each individual’s
full legal name, date of birth, address, Social Security
number, and U.S. citizenship before the
individual is issued a driver’s license or personal
ID card. The REAL ID is a logical vehicle because
the National Voter Registration Act established
a connection between obtaining a driver’s
license and registering to vote. The REAL ID
card adds two critical elements for voting—
proof of citizenship and verification by using the
full Social Security number. . . . Voters who do
not drive, including older citizens, should have
the opportunity to register to vote and receive a
voter ID . . . easily available and issued free of
Four states have enacted strict voter photo ID
laws consistent with that recommendation. Wisconsin,
Indiana, Tennessee, and Kansas were the
first states to commit to compliance with Title II
of the REAL ID Act, also known as Public Law
109-13. States with less restrictive voter ID laws
that also comply with PL109-13 driver’s license
standards are Florida, Alabama, Kentucky,
Ohio, Utah, Connecticut, and North Dakota.
The rationale for photographic identification
was clear: to ensure that the person casting the
ballot was the same registered person. Moreover,
this step was designed to reduce—ideally
to eliminate—one person voting in the name of
any other. Of course, a determined imposter can
obtain a counterfeit or fake photo ID in the
name of the registered voter, but the risk of
criminal charges upon detection is considerably
higher than the prevailing method.
If a state government is earnest in its effort to
prevent voter fraud, validation of the identity
document is necessary for voter registration and
polling place identity confirmation processes.
States should require a reliable form of photographic
identification; most often this is the
state’s driver’s license.
Responding to alleged cross-state-border
voter fraud, a majority of photo ID laws specify
a state-issued driver’s license or a U.S. passport
to confirm state of residence, but a passport
does not show a street address, so it is of no
help with regard to voting in the wrong congressional
district. The Carter-Baker Commission
strongly recommends that states have a
highly reliable means of confirming identity for
voter registration. With a majority of states
meeting REAL ID benchmarks for their driver’s
license issuance by January 2013, a REAL
ID compliant driver’s license would meet that
test. The proof of identity required by the REAL
ID rules actually are stricter than those for a
passport, particularly with regard to proof of legal
name, state residency address, and U.S. citizenship.
Too many state voter ID laws accept dubious
identity documents as valid. For example, a library
card typically is issued without any confirmation
of actual identity. Lack of identity
verification may be sufficient when the only
risk is that a book is never returned, but a library
card, utility bill, or a photo copy of a birth
certificate should not be considered a sufficient
proof of identity to vote. By contrast, a U.S.
Passport, like a REAL ID compliant driver’s license,
requires several proofs of identification
and also denotes citizenship.
When Pres. Barack Obama was a senator
from Illinois, he pointedly disagreed with the
Supreme Court decision upholding the Indiana
voter photo ID law, saying “it discourages folks
from voting.” Yet, the facts counter this assertion.
For instance, in nearly all of the local elections
in Kansas in 2012, where the voter photo
ID was required, voter turnout was higher than
in prior years when none was required. This
pattern also occurred in Indiana and Georgia
elections after voter photo IDs were enacted.
One reason may have been that showing photo
identifications at the polls resulted in rapid
check-in times and led to a relatively easy voting
experience. Whether Attorney General Eric
Holder agrees that voter IDs are a tool for preventing
election fraud should be of little consequence.
It is clear that reliable identity verification
at the polls as well as at voter registration
is desired by the public, and can help restore
confidence that our elections are beyond reproach.

Herbert London is a senior fellow at the Manhattan
Institute, New York, and Brian Zimmer
is president of the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s
License, Washington, D.C.

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