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Editorial August 15, 2013  RSS feed


The controversy over requiring a photo ID to vote seems to get everyone hot under the collar. Many states are passing legislation that requires citizens to identify themselves before they can cast their ballot. As quickly as such a law is passed, it is challenged in court by opponents.

The motives as to why many states are pursuing stringent voter identification laws are sharply disputed along party lines and ideology. Despite some urban legends and Mississippi myths, voter fraud perpetrated by individuals coming to polling places with fake IDs is about as real as a monster hiding under a child’s bed.

According to a 2012 Carnegie-Knight investigative news analysis of 2,068 reported voter fraud cases, just 10 involved alleged in-person voter registration. Moreover, there were 491 cases of alleged absentee-ballot fraud and 400 cases of registration fraud—and in all instances, they would not have been prevented by a voter ID requirement.

Fake identification is, however, a constant problem in the U.S. It is very easy for anyone with the right connections to purchase on the street a very authentic-looking, black market driver’s license or state identification card to be used for any purpose, such as boarding planes, buying certain medication, entering buildings, applying for bank accounts or purchasing alcohol.

New York State, for instance, is working to stop counterfeiting by creating a new series of driver’s licenses complete with new color tones and other security measures much like those found on large denomination currency. It’s a move designed to make it harder for criminals to undermine the security of all New Yorkers.

Easy and affordable access to state-issued ID cards is a problem, according to members of the NAACP. In protesting voter ID laws around the country, they argue that it will “disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters who lack the money, transportation or documentation to obtain accepted identification.”

“In the South, many elderly African-Americans do not have valid birth certificates because laws at the time of their birth forbid them to be born in hospitals,” according to the NAACP. “This makes securing state-issued photo IDs difficult if not imposible.”

All these obstacles to obtaining a photo ID can easily be solved. Given the importance of legitimate identification in a dangerous world, states should provide convenient and accessible places where all residents can obtain legal ID cards.

Following Hurricane Sandy in New York City in October 2012, thousands of people lost all their “important papers” including driver’s licenses. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) set up convenient places around storm-damaged areas where new licenses could be obtained. Nobody had to go the local DMV office— the DMV came to the community.

The DMV can set up shop in various senior centers, hospital waiting rooms, supermarket lobbies, Social Security offices and many other facilities on a rotating basis. It only takes two people, a computer and a camera to help thousands of Americans obtain legitimate photo IDs. The cost is negligible, but the benefits are many for both the states and their people.

In 21st-century America, with the technology afforded to our society and the security risks we all face, the ability for all Americans to obtain real identification shouldn’t come with any hardships. If states wish to treat ID cards with such importance— as they should—then they must ensure that every resident can easily obtain the cards without hassle or great expense.