North Carolinians want their election laws to include a photo ID requirement. They’ve made this clear many times. In 2018, a large majority of voters chose to add such a requirement to the state constitution.
Critics of voter ID know full well they represent a small minority of North Carolinians. They don’t care. Defining the policy as “voter suppression,” they proclaim it a waste of resources and a violation of the civil right to cast a ballot.
They are wrong about that. They are wrong at every level of analysis.
Voter ID doesn’t suppress the vote, for starters. Most scholarly studies of voter ID conclude that it has little to no effect on turnout in general, or on variations in turnout among partisan, racial or ethnic groups. For example, a 2019 paper in the Atlantic Economic Journal found “no evidence that strict identification laws affect overall turnout or black turnout” and found a small reduction in Hispanic turnout only within one version of the authors’ model. Even when researchers find a turnout effect, it’s usually quite small. In South Carolina, implementation of voter ID “decreased turnout in the 2014 general election by 0.19%,” wrote the authors of a Political Research Quarterly study, while having “no discernible racial impact.”
Nor is voter ID intended to suppress legal votes. Most states and many foreign countries employ some version of the safeguard, including most European democracies. To accuse the likes of Norway and the Netherlands of engaging in voter suppression is preposterous.
Now, if the introduction of a voter ID law doesn’t significantly reduce turnout, then basic math tells us there can’t be rampant impersonation fraud in our election system! Otherwise, the number of ballots cast would go way down (because lots of illegal votes would be blocked). Based on this fact, critics say there’s no point in having ID laws.
They’re still wrong. Impersonation fraud is very rare but does occur on occasion, such as someone casting a ballot on behalf of a recently deceased relative. Also very occasionally, elections are settled by just a handful of votes. In 2017, partisan control of the Virginia House of Delegates had to be settled by drawing lots because the two candidates in the pivotal district each got 11,608 votes.
Besides, the best case for voter ID isn’t about impersonation. It’s about residency. A just-released study by scholars at the University of California-San Diego and the University of Alberta estimated that some 6.1 million Americans are registered to vote in more than one state. Most of these registrations are probably accidental. Folks relocate and don’t notify their former state. And only a tiny number actually attempt to vote multiple times, obviously an illegal act. But a far larger share — the authors estimate more than 300,000 in 2020 — engage in “cross-state strategic voting.”
Think of a college student who could either cast an absentee ballot in his home state or vote in person where he’s enrolled. Think of a wealthy couple with residences in multiple states. These conditions shouldn’t allow people to choose which place to vote based on where they think their votes are more likely to tip the outcome. They should vote where they’re truly domiciled. How can we tell? The possession of an ID card issued by the jurisdiction is a pretty good tell. In our state, the law already requires you to register your vehicle and get a North Carolina driver’s license if you live and drive here for more than a few weeks. And it’s not too much to ask non-drivers to get a photo ID if they want to vote here.
Indeed, having a photo ID is handy in many other ways, so providing them is a valuable public service!
Lastly, ID laws don’t deny anyone the right to vote. They serve merely to establish the identity and residency of those casting ballots. Let’s stop the litigation merry-go-round. Let’s enact a reasonable ID law and move on. Enough already.
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John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member.
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