The Voter ID Law Controversy

Election questions always rear their head as we begin the Fall campaign season.  One of those issues this season involves the voter identification laws passed in several states around the nation.  New Jersey does not have an ID requirement, but, 33 states now require identification to cast a ballot, with five mandating specific forms of picture ID.

The debate around voter ID laws is actually fairly simple. Proponents of requiring voters to provide identification argue that such rules are needed to deter voting fraud. They cite the integrity of the voting process as one of the most important parts of our democratic process.

Meanwhile, critics of the laws maintain that voter ID laws are simply designed to decrease voter turnout, particularly by minorities, elderly, and the poor. New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice estimates that 21 million Americans do not have photo IDs.

Both sides also argue that the claims made by the other have been overblown. For example, critics of the laws point to statistics showing that voter fraud is extremely uncommon. A recent study by a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project found 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation since 2000.

At the same time, proponents of ID requirements argue that we really won’t know how prevalent voting fraud is until we have mechanism to stop it. Supporters further argue that it is unclear how many eligible voters without photo IDs actually vote, thus downplaying the implications of the laws.

Both sides may square off before the Supreme Court next term, as several cases involving voter ID laws are winding their way through the court system.  When the Supreme Court addressed the issue in 2007, it upheld a voter ID law in Indiana.

In its opinion, the Supreme Court stated that the “risk of voter fraud is real.” It further stated, “While the most effective method of preventing election fraud may well be debatable, the propriety of doing so is perfectly clear.”

Although the Court recognized the states’ interests in patrolling elections, it did find that some laws might cross the line. It noted that state “judgment must prevail unless it imposes a severe and unjustified overall burden upon the right to vote, or is intended to disadvantage a particular class.”

Donald Scarinci is a managing partner at Lyndhurst, N.J.-based law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck.  He is also the editor of the Constitutional Law Reporter and Government & Law blogs.

The Voter ID Law Controversy