is requiring a photo ID discriminatory? asking for a friend

Let’s be honest. There’s too much rhetoric out there right now. In 21st Century America, every issue needs an enemy; the acquisition of a carefully crafted enemy expedites support. It builds public backing faster and in many cases, prompts the omission of detailed scrutiny which multifaceted issues necessitate. Hence, many exaggerate or inflame in order to stir up support. The desired end then justifies their oft mendacious means.

The challenge then is discerning right and wrong from the rhetoric. Wise-thinking persons don’t want to be talked into anything; we don’t want our discernment skills to be determined by news activists with agendas, singular source bias, nor social media shaming. (For the record, social media shaming has the exact opposite effect.)

One issue that’s been incredibly difficult to discern amidst this backdrop is the question of whether it’s appropriate to require a photo ID to vote. Is such discriminatory? The Intramuralist is “asking for a friend,” because we wish for no friend to be treated unfairly. I also believe most wise-thinking Americans have a desire to never discriminate. So let’s extract the rhetoric and unpack the issue.

Many activities require a photo ID — purchasing alcohol or cigarettes, renting a car or hotel room, applying for welfare, for example. Granted, the Constitution doesn’t provide Americans with the right to any of the above. That’s what makes voting different.

The issue gets trickier when we acknowledge that a photo ID is required both in marriage and air travel. Our country has had many conversations about those perceived rights — an individual’s right to marry whoever they want — and freedom of movement; the TSA requires a photo ID for everyone boarding a plane.

Examining multiple surveys from a diverse cross section of sources, it appears that the percentage of American adults who do not have a photo ID is somewhere between 7-11%. While each state provides some sort of free photo ID to any resident who needs one — meaning affordability is not an issue — the debate by the ACLU and others is accessibility to government-issued sources. The question is how transportation to/fro said sources affects the poor, disabled, and those living in more rural areas.

Such made me wonder how a photo ID requirement affects turnout. My very unscientific research was interesting…

  • A two election cycle study released in September of 2014 by the Government Accountability Office studying Kentucky and Tennessee concluded that strict photo ID laws reduced turnout by 2-3%.
  • A ten year study released in February of 2019 by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) concluded that strict photo ID laws “have no negative effect on registration or turnout, overall or for any group defined by race, gender, age, or party affiliation.”

The results are inconclusive. Especially if we only focus on a singular study.

I thus find myself in search of the bigger question. Eliminating the “enemy rhetoric,” knowing employers of such most likely hope we will omit the detailed scrutiny, the challenge in the voting debate is obvious…

How do we manage the tension between fraud and participation? How do we simultaneously ensure the integrity of the vote and encourage broad, individual involvement? 

Which makes me ask… if one side or another is employing inflammatory rhetoric, which of the two sides of the tension are they prioritizing and why? 

Are they only attempting to eliminate fraud?

Are they only encouraging increased participation?

As the NBER study acknowledged, “Combating such fraud is critical to build citizen confidence in election results and consolidate democratic regimes… However, rules pursuing those objectives can also weaken democracy if they keep eligible citizens away from the polling booth. Compounding the matter, legislators have an incentive to push for restrictions if citizens enfranchised by flexible rules will likely vote for rival parties – or oppose restrictions if that will widen their base.”

Our legislators, pundits, and politicians have incentive to push and oppose, exaggerate and inflame, prioritize and omit. Perhaps step one is acknowledging such — and not allowing any enemy to be crafted.

Let’s keep talking. Let’s resist the rhetoric. Let’s keep asking for a friend.