A dozen years ago, proving who you were at the polls wasn’t a big issue. But then came the presidential election of 2000, which spotlighted mechanical and other flaws in Florida’s vote-counting system and ended with the U.S. Supreme Court intervening to declare a winner. That high-stakes drama touched off a re-examination of election processes and led several states over the next decade to tighten ID requirements to reduce the possibility of fraud. By 2011, voter ID was “the hottest topic of legislation in the field of elections,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In Minnesota, voters in November will be deciding whether to move from having no voter ID requirement to adopting one of the strictest in the nation.
In 2001, only 14 states even asked for ID — and it was a request, not a requirement. Since 2001, nearly 1,000 voter ID bills have been introduced in a total of 46 states. Thirty-three states have passed voter ID laws, and at least 30 will be in place for November’s election.
Proponents argue that photo ID is a relatively painless way to shore up election integrity. Opponents say it’s unnecessary, costly and aimed at disenfranchising the elderly, college students, the disabled and others who tend to support Democrats. The worst fears of activists on both sides appear to be overblown, according to an April 2012 report from the conference of state legislatures. “So far, little evidence exists that fraud by impersonation at the polls is a common problem. Likewise, little evidence exists that large numbers of people have been barred from voting in states with strict voter ID laws,” the report found.