Voter ID Laws: Are They Necessary to Stop Fraud?
Senior Editor, CNBC
"These voter ID laws are clearly voter suppression tactics," says Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
"These laws are not addressing fraud but are modern-day poll taxes designed to remove eligible voters from our democracy. They should be stopped immediately," she says.
But others say voters don't mind the requirement.
"Many people thanked us for asking for IDs," says Deborah Chamberlain, a poll worker in Wauwatosa, Wis., since 2000 and the owner of a media and marketing service.
"People had been offering photo IDs before they were required here as a show of support prior to passage of the law (in 2010)," Chamberlain says.
Many Americans eligible to vote don't have photo IDs — not everyone drives a car or needs to. Some people don't belong to a group or organization that provides photo IDs.
It's estimated that 11 percent of all voting age citizens — and some 18 percent of people over 65 — don't have photo IDs, but would have other forms of identification. As many as 25 percent of African-Americans are said to lack acceptable identification for some current ID laws.
Studies on voter suppression show some negative results — even if slightly. A paper from the Harvard Law and Policy Review that studied voter ID laws from 2002 to 2006 concluded that there was a 1.1 percent decline in voter turnout in states that had photo ID laws during those four years.
The paper also concluded that by 2006, the states without ID requirements or with nonphoto ID laws at the polls showed higher voter turnout than states that had either one.
Where are voter ID laws headed?
In the end, it may fall mostly along party lines. Just one state with a Democratic controlled legislature — Rhode Island in 2011 — has passed a voter ID law so far.
The Justice Department can step in to block the laws, but only in certain states that have a "history of discriminatory practices" as part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The department did so in the case of South Carolina's law but the state is appealing the decision.
In an era of state budget cutbacks, the cost for the laws has not come cheap. Indiana's cost taxpayers more than $10 million just to issue new IDs, according to reports . Estimates by other states projected costs of up to $25.2 million in North Carolina over three years and $16.9 million in Missouri over three years.
Cost aside, those against the voter ID laws say the system does need some updating.
"Voting registration lists do need cleaning up and to be current," says Brennan's Gaskins. "Certainly those that have passed away and those not eligible to vote should be taken out. But voter IDs at the poll doesn't ensure voting rights."
What's missing from the overall discussion is how to get more Americans legally into the voting booths, says Chamberlain, the Wisconsin poll worker.
"Personally, I haven't seen any fraud." Chamberlain says. "But I think we need voter IDs. We also need the state to help people who have problems getting IDs. Even one legal voter should not be held back from this basic right."