Voter ID Madness: The Real Issue with Real Solutions Commentary
Voter ID Madness: The Real Issue with Real Solutions
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JURIST Guest Columnist Justin Camper, Valparaiso University Law School Class of 2016, discusses the issues facing voters at the polls…“Voting is the most precious right of every citizen and we have a moral obligation to ensure the integrity of our voting process.” No sentiment concerning voting rings truer than this expression of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In the wake of the midterm elections, many attribute low voter turnout supporting the Democratic Party, on restrictive voter ID laws. Many sympathetic to the plight of recently disenfranchised voters compare the new suppressive voter ID laws to post Civil War poll taxes. There have been many changes to voter laws throughout the country.

In Kansas, over 20,000 people were stopped from registering to vote because they lacked proof of citizenship. North Carolina’s early voting was cut by seven days. Democrats say that Texas passed the country’s toughest voter ID law that contributed to a congressman losing a tight race to his Republican rival. Recent studies have shown that generally voter ID laws are an ineffective way to steal elections and do not affect the outcome of elections. This should not be a partisan issue but an American issue that all should be fighting to resolve. My goal is to enlighten and involve others in this discussion in order to facilitate practical solutions drawing from realistic goals.

Before the midterms, many citizens bemoaned the voter ID laws demanding an overturn, claiming the laws would disenfranchise thousands of registered voters, terminating their eligibility from voting. Recently, the US Supreme Court upheld a 2011 Texas law requiring specific voter identification as constitutional. The Texas law declared that voters must provide government issued photo identification, like a Texas driver’s or gun license, a military ID or a passport. Many individuals, including US Attorney General, Eric Holder Jr., civil rights groups and the Obama administration, have challenged the Texas law. Justice Ginsburg wrote in her dissent that this law “may prevent more than 600,000 registered Texas voters (about 4.5 percent of all registered voters from voting in person for lack of [proper] identification.)” Also, she added, that “a sharply disproportionate percentage of those voters are African-American or Hispanic.” Yet, Texas officials called Ginsburg’s math “preposterous.”

The reason given for so many disproportionate victims is that it is difficult for minorities to obtain the required form of identification. Ginsburg wrote, that “more than 400,000 eligible voters face round trip travel times of three hours or more near a government office issuing ID.” Furthermore, birth certificates needed for government issued IDs are unaffordable for many. Although, the state usually offers reduced cost birth certificates for election purposes, it is not publicized as an option.

A recent North Carolina Board of Elections study showed that the “so called margin of disenfranchisement” for people without photo identification “grossly overstates the potential electoral consequence of these laws.” Primarily, the true number of registered voters without photo identification is grossly overestimated than what is suggested in statistics. The numbers are usually calculated by matching voter registration files with state ID databases, but perfect matching is impossible. In Texas, if you register to vote with a name like “Nate” but your ID says “Nathan” you will be counted as a registered voter without a photo ID. However, you would be able to vote at the polling station because it is “substantially similar” to the one on file. The Board of Elections decided to match the names by additional matching criteria like Social Security numbers and date of birth, causing “the number of unmatched registered voters to plummet from 1.24 million to 318,643.”

Furthermore, people who are without IDs are less likely to vote than other registered voters. The North Carolina study showed that 43 percent of registered voters who did not meet the matching criteria, voted in 2012 while more than 70 percent of matched voters exercised their voting rights. Due to these differences in participation, it is unclear whether those without a photo ID would have overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates. It is clear that voter ID laws had a disparate impact on traditional Democratic-leaning demographics, including young, nonwhite, poor, immobile and elderly voters. However, in this study 22 percent of these voters were registered Republicans making it unlikely the alleged 70/30 margin is fully consistent with Democratic concerns about voter suppression. Thus, a 70/30 fabricated margin is not enough votes to decide anything beyond extremely close elections. Lastly, many of the voters without photo identification will generally cast provisional ballots. Though provisional ballots are not an adequate long-term remedy for voters without identification, 37 percent of provisional ballots cast because of ID reasons were counted in Kansas and 26 percent were counted in Tennessee in 2012.

With all the mitigating factors, it is difficult to show a relationship between voter ID laws and swinging elections unless it is a very close election. Throughout history, Democratic candidates won in states with voter ID laws. For example, President Obama won in Indiana directly after the state passed a restrictive voter ID law in 2008. Despite this, history has proven that: voter fraud is nonexistent and voter ID laws do not swing elections. But that should not be the focus since both party’s interests creates a solvable paradox. The two competing interests at stake deserving of focus are voter fraud and voter disenfranchisement. Both political parties should acknowledge the others concerns and partner to solve them. However, once again lawmakers have been allowed to politicize the issue making it a partisan rather than an American issue.

The goal should be to shed light on the issue expanding the audience in search of solutions. It is saddening to see the number of people affected by discriminatory laws. Whether the law’s intention was to discriminate or not, the outcome is unacceptable. It appears we are not digging deep enough into this issue. It is doubtful that the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s would have allowed an ID law to stop their community from voting.

The solution is clear—overturn the laws. Yes, striking down the laws would initiate a long and ominous process. But in order to strike down voting discrimination laws, state legislatures and the judiciary must agree that these laws are unconstitutional. How long must citizens wait for their voting rights to be restored? Minorities do not need the government to solve every issue. Understanding the history of racism in this country, is key to recognizing that certain people are subject to laws with a discriminatory effect on minorities. The main issue with voting laws is that people have a hard time getting IDs because of financial and transportation troubles. Rather than wasting precious time trying to convince the government to strike down these laws, we must develop quick and practical solutions to overcome this discrimination.

For example, if finances pose an issue then community based groups need to raise money for indigent people. In addition, if transportation is an issue these groups need to build transportation systems to help these people get to government offices. There are many benefits to having a government issued ID besides voting, but absent solutions, lawmakers will continue to discriminate against minorities in other areas. Minorities are powerful when connected and supporting each other to develop outcomes to current problems, without depending on the government to properly govern.

Justin Camper is a second year student at Valparasio University Law School. He studied political science at Purdue University and has conducted research within politics and law, including presenting his “Affirmative Action in Law Schools” piece at the McNair Nationwide Conference.

Suggested Citation: Justin Camper, Voter ID Madness: The Real Issue with Real Solutions, JURIST – Student Commentary, Jan. 23, 2015,

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