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Voter ID: Making it harder to vote or preventing fraud?

Published: August 30, 2012
Section: Opinions


Last month I applied for an absentee ballot to be sent to my Brandeis mailbox so that I could vote in my state’s election. Sure, I could have registered as a Massachusetts voter, but I wanted to vote under the same address that I did four years ago. My desire to vote for my home state is not because my state is a battleground state (it’s almost surely going to President Obama), or because my district is competitive (it usually goes to some republican), or because I hope to re-elect a certain senator (that’s just a bonus).

I care about voting in my home state because of two Constitutional amendments that are on the ballot this year. The first amendment is one I already know my stance on: whether or not to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is not currently legal in my state, but the amendment would define marriage in a way that constitutionally bans it. I will be voting against the amendment.

The other one is a bit trickier. It’s an amendment that would require the presentation of government ID when voting in future elections. Currently, any resident of Minnesota who is 18 years of age or older can vote on Election Day. If they are not already registered, they can register on Election Day at their voting precinct. There are many forms of ID that are permissible when registering on Election Day; even that, however, is unnecessary if a person is willing to swear under oath to verify another’s address.

Under the proposed new amendment, voters would have to present government-issued identification in order to receive their ballot. While anyone interested in voting should be willing to get the necessary ID, especially since the amendment would require the ID to be free, it is an unnecessary burden on what can—at times—be an apathetic electorate.

Additionally, a provision of the amendment would eliminate the ability for voters to register on Election Day because they would be required to have registered IDs before casting a ballot. Election Day registrants simply cannot be subject to the same checks if they are to be able to vote. Arguably, the verifications needed to vote on election day should be enough, as they ask potential voters to show a reasonable amount of proof that they live at their claimed address.

The new amendment also does not flesh out potential problems that this mandatory government ID poses. As someone who is voting via absentee ballot, the amendment, should it be enacted into law, could pose a major problem for future absentee voters. Voters who arrive at their precincts will be required to present an ID, so what are voters by mail supposed to do? The most reasonable thing to do would be to photocopy an ID; but how is that secure? A simple Google search pulls up plenty of images that someone skilled in Photoshop could most likely alter. Furthermore, a photocopy lacks the many built-in security details of an official ID.

Although the supporters of this amendment claim that it makes voting safer, it in no way benefits absentee-ballot fraud, and actually might make it harder for an out-of-state citizen to vote in their home state.

Unlike the other amendment on an absentee ballot, this one appears to have good intentions. Preventing voter fraud is certainly a worthy goal. Having voted in an election that was decided by a handful of votes after a mandated recount (resulting in the election of Al Franken), I agree that potential voter fraud could theoretically change elections. But is fear of fraud worth making it more difficult to vote?

At the same time, I’ve always been a little bit proud of how easy it is to register and vote in my home state. For instance, if I were not currently registered to vote, the necessary application would have been sent with my ballot. Considering the low levels of national voter turnout, it’s really nice that some states encourage people to vote by making it easy to qualify. Among other things, the same-day registration benefits people whose 18th birthday is close to Election Day. As district voter lists are printed in advance of Election Day, it’s possibly the only way to ensure that anyone who’s qualified to vote, is able to vote.

Both sides of the argument are understandable; however, it is hard to say that the proposed changes would be beneficial to Minnesota and its population. While the attempt to better our state by preventing voter fraud is appreciated, I think this new amendment stops short of its goal. Election Day is about more than just voting for a presidential candidate and congressional delegates; It’s also the date when changes to a state’s constitution can be made. For that reason, it is imperative that we carefully consider all issues that are on our ballots.