Voter ID law minor inconvenience

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By: Jaclyn Chen <jchen@hilite.org>

It’s primary season, and the excitement is stirring around the nation as states mood swing between Clinton and Obama, McCain and Romney. But Indiana faces a decision unlike the others that could change how citizens vote in the future.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case regarding Indiana’s voter ID law. Passed in 2005, the law mandates that all voters present a photo ID at the polls. Previously, the only requirement before a casting ballot was to sign the poll book.

I’ve worked at the polls for two elections now, and I have yet to encounter a problem regarding the law. Some voters thought that they always had to present ID, and the problem, if anything, was generating enough civic duty to get to the poll site, not qualifying to cast a ballot.

The primary purpose of the voter ID law is to prevent fraudulent voting, according to the Office of the Indiana Secretary of State, one of the main supporters of the measure. This law guarantees each citizen’s right to vote once, and only once, in elections. Elections hinge upon counting every last vote, as seen in the 2000 debacle over Florida’s ballots in the presidential election, so this law seeks to alleviate those pains.

Without photo ID, it is virtually impossible to detect in-person vote fraud. Poll workers receive a book with a voter’s information and digitalized signature. Before the law passed, the only verification was matching signatures and, I suppose, checking gender. With only those steps, I could easily think of several ways to commit fraud.

The state Democratic Party and civil rights activists say that the voter ID law disenfranchises certain groups, especially minority, elderly and poor voters, and compare it to Jim Crow-era laws. The fact that the BMV offers IDs free of charge, however, negates this charge because everyone qualifies to receive a photo ID. If the voter can’t get to the BMV, how is he going to get to the polls? The idea escapes me. Providing photo ID is a minimal inconvenience at most and a routine procedure at least.

Some propose using voter registration cards as means of identification. The problem, however, is that Indiana’s extremely bloated voter rolls contains many multiple registrations, and therefore some people have multiple voter cards. A driver’s license, or the BMV-issued ID, is linked to a national database so that no one can hold two at the same time. This ensures the current address of the voter and verifies his registration.

The argument mostly boils down to a political debate. The law passed during a Republican-controlled legislature and was signed by republican governor Mitch Daniels, and the state Democratic Party appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court. Democrats’ stronghold traditionally lies with the elderly, minority and poor voting blocks, and their arguments to protect their constituents do make sense. However, what’s reasonable and what’s ideal don’t always align, and in this case, I prefer the minor inconvenience over dangerous voter fraud­ – it is easier to enforce photo ID than it is to deal with the train wreck of a fraudulent election.

If the Supreme Court approves the measure, Indiana’s law could set the precedent for other states, and the decision could render a national law regarding photo ID. Currently, only Indiana, Florida and Georgia require it. Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan and South Dakota have less strict versions of the same law, according to USA Today.

Choosing the president of the United States holds more weight than boarding a plane or cashing a check, and those acts regularly require a form of identification. Even if we demote the economic level of these examples, collecting welfare and food stamps also requires ID. The electoral process should be no exception.

The essence of the American democratic institution lies with this widely coveted right, and efforts in the past to thwart the integrity of the elections have muffled the people’s voice. There will be tiptoeing around any law that alters requirements for the glorified voting process, but even this fragile glass figurine can’t be preserved forever. The laws must adapt to new situations, and the voter ID law currently provides the best possible solution to ensure fair and free elections. Jaclyn Chen is the editor in chief of the HiLite. Contact her at jchen@hilite.org.

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