We are blessed to be citizens of a country where we can go to the polls and cast our vote to elect our representatives – from the local, state, to federal levels. Whether we are choosing a mayor or a village board member, a governor or a state assemblyman, a congressman or the president, or any other candidate for elected office, the voice of the people are expressed through votes, and the people decide who will be sworn in to serve. But not all countries operate in the same way. There are territories around the world where monarchies exist, or dictators rule over the land and choose a successor upon retirement, or unelected religous or military leaders control people’s lives. Over and over again, history has shown how governments that are not based on the will of the people have failed. In America, we believe in the Constitution and the rule of law. We believe in the power of the people. We believe that government is of the people, for the people, by the people. Voting is at the center of our democracy. And, voter identification laws are needed to protect the integrity of our electoral process.
One person gets one vote. And, only citizens can vote. When I came to the United States as a legal immigrant, and lived for several years as a permanent resident (also known as “Green Card holder”), I had the rights that an American citizen has, except for the right to vote. But that changed when I became a naturalized United States citizen, and became eligible to vote. I exercised my right by voting for candidates for my choice during election. However, this right is not free from threats. Across the country, we continue to learn about cases of voter fraud. Each time a fraudulent vote is cast, a lawful vote is cancelled out. As concerned citizens, we need to support laws and policies that will protect people’s right to vote, as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Voter fraud has many forms: registering to vote using fakes names or addresses, voting more than once or in more than one location, paying people to vote for certain candidates, coercing a voter to vote in a certain way, reporting fraudulent numbers for ballots cast at a polling booth, etc. In recent years, many cases of voter fraud have been reported in various parts of the country. In 2013, a woman in Ohio was convicted of fraud – she had unlawfully voted multiple times (Endnote 1). But known cases of voter fraud in America dates back to the 1800s. For example, during an election in New York in 1844, 55,000 votes were recorded while there were only 41,000 eligible voters (Endnote 2). Criminal activity aimed at distorting the electoral process is not a new occurrence.
An excellent way to ensure that voter fraud is prevented is by requiring identification card or documentation to vote. Currently, 34 states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification to be able to vote. Depending on the state, identification may have a photo (such as driver’s license , state ID card, etc.) or may not include a photo (such as a bank statement with name and address) (Endnote 3). In Wisconsin, new law mandates that most voters need to present an acceptable photo ID to vote. However, in Wisconsin, there are certain exceptions, such as in the case of an eligible voter who has a “sincere religious belief against being photographed”, or someone who is in the military, live permanently overseas, or are classified as a confidential elector (Endnote 4). For states with voter ID laws in place, the stringency of ID requirements, and exceptions to the rule, may vary. In general, voter ID helps ensure that only legally eligible individuals are able to cast their ballot, and only once in any given election.
As in the case of almost any law, laws requiring voter ID face opposition too. But it is shocking to me how any argument against voter ID requirements can be conceived and presented. As President Donald Trump stated this month, we need IDs “for almost everything” we do (Endnote 5). When I walk up to a teller in a bank to withdraw my hard-earned money from my personal checking account, and the teller asks me for an ID, I know that the bank is doing its due diligence to keep my account safe from imposters or other fraudulent individuals. The same holds true for our vote – there should be sufficient protections in place to make sure that the correct person is casting the vote and in the right place and only once per election. Requiring voter ID is a strong form of protection.
Opponents often argue that voter ID requirements act as barrier to vote. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) states that voter ID laws “deprive many Americans of the right to vote” because “more than 21 million Americans” do not have government-issued photo identification. The organization also mentions that “obtaining IDs cost money” (Endnote 6). As already highlighted above, proper identification is a necessity in today’s day and age. Not having a proper form of ID can prevent an individual from performing a variety of tasks (such as operating a vehicle or opening a bank account) in everyday life. To address the “cost” of obtaining an ID, Wisconsin has come up with a way to allow for a petition process for people to obtain a free ID card for voting purposes (Endnote 7).
Those who are opposed to the passage and implementation of laws requiring identification to vote sometimes bring up the number of cases of voter fraud to try to diminish the importance of voter ID. Opponents call voter fraud “very rare” (Endnote 8). There are “nearly 1,100 proven instances of fraud spanning 47 states” (Endnote 9). The number of cases in which fraud has been properly identified and proven is likely to be less than the number of actual instances of fraud, because there may be cases of fraud that go undetected. While 1,100 “proven instances” of fraud may not make a wide swing in election outcomes at the national level, they do matter at the local level and state level races that decide most of our elected officials. In communities across the county, town supervisors, village board members, and city councilors are some of the elected officials who are closest to the people they represent. According to 2012 data published by the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 19,519 municipal governments in the country (Endnote 10). Analyzing the data, it can be concluded that 16,544 (over 80 percent) are municipalities with less than 10,000 people, and a total of 12,789 (over 60 percent) have less than 2,500 people. In small municipalities across America, races may be won or lost by double digit votes, and hence, event a very small number of fraudulent votes can have tremendous impact on the outcome of elections. Therefore, ensuring that elections are completely free from voter fraud is of utmost importance in our country, and voter ID laws are a common-sense approach to help prevent illegal activities at the polls.
Voter fraud is an assault against our democracy. Ensuring fraud-free elections are essential to making sure that only those who have been elected by the citizens of America are sworn in to office to serve. Requiring voter ID safeguards our electoral process and helps protect our democracy from the threats of illegal activity.