If you’ve only got 30 seconds to make your case in the debate over photo ID laws — which require voters to show up at the polls with a government-issued photo ID — it’s much easier to argue in favor of the laws.“You need a photo ID to get on an airplane or rent a movie from Blockbuster. Get over it!” While investigating voting in America for the documentary film “Electoral Dysfunction,” I heard versions of this line over and over from the laws’ backers. The message is clear: “If you’re too lazy to get a government-issued photo ID, then you probably don’t deserve to vote. And please, let’s not forget 9/11.” (The airplane reference is a handy conversation-stopper.) But voting rights are worth at least 60 seconds of our attention. So here’s why these laws hurt more than they help: The only crime these laws address is voter impersonation — someone showing up at the polls and claiming to be someone else in order to cast a fraudulent vote. (I know, sounds almost delightfully madcap.)
There are so many problems with the way we run elections in this country. Voter impersonation is not one of them. Indiana, one of the first states to pass a strict photo ID law, has never convicted anyone for it. Ditto Pennsylvania, which passed an even stricter law. It’s an extremely rare crime — 10 cases nationwide over a 12-year period during which hundreds of millions of votes were cast — and for good reason. The penalty is severe — up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine — and the perpetrator nets only one vote. If you’re going to steal an election, there are far better options. (Hire a 16-year-old to hack into the computer touch-screen voting system — the one without a paper trail — in use in about a third of American states.)
These laws are a solution in search of a problem. Why not a law criminalizing child abduction by space aliens? Well, can you prove it isn’t happening? But even if these laws prevent only a tiny number of fraudulent votes, aren’t they worthwhile? No.
Full Article: Voter ID Wars – NYTimes.com.