The Great Divide: Should the U.S. Require Voters to Show a Photo ID Before They Vote?

The election debates continue. No, not that one. The one that has to do with voter ID laws. Yesterday, a Pennsylvania judge blocked a key component of a state law that would require photographic identification to vote in this year’s election.

The fact that “Pennsylvanians will not have to present a state-approved ID to vote in November, was the latest and most significant in a series of legal victories for those opposed to laws that they charge would limit access to polls in this presidential election,” reports The New York Times. And the paper notes that, “With only a month left until Election Day, disputes around the country over new voter ID requirements, early voting, provisional ballots and registration drives are looking far less significant.”

The Washington Post observed that, “Pennsylvania has occupied a particularly important spot in what has become a series of partisan skirmishes over new laws on who will be allowed to vote this fall and how their votes will be counted.”

MORE: A Supreme Question: Will the Court Gut the Voting Rights Act?

The Post adds that those opposed to voter ID requirements, “have won key victories in the courts, where judges have had to balance a state’s traditional right to make rules for the electoral process with citizens’ fundamental right to vote. A panel of federal judges blocked a new law in Texas, saying the state had not proved that the changes would not disproportionately harm minorities. State judges in Wisconsin stopped the statute there. South Carolina’s measure is under federal judicial review, with little time for implementation even if it is approved.”

(Check out the Post’s Current state of voter ID laws across the country map for more details.)

For Democrats, and civil rights groups, who claim there is virtually no evidence of voter ID fraud, these rulings come as good news. Just Monday, the PolitickerNJ quoted from a report compiled by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law that examined the impact of new voting laws and executive actions passed by various states in 2011 and 2012. Their findings include the following:

The new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012 and are expected to sharply tilt the political terrain for this year’s Presidential election.

These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities.

The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 – 63% of the 270 votes needed to win the presidency.

Now, it’s obviously easy for this to become a big partisan debate. So perhaps The Christian Science Monitor took the right approach with its article, “3 views on whether US states should require voter ID.” Here’s an excerpt from each of those points of view.

Yes, we need voter ID laws (courtesy of Jonathan Tobin, editor and blogger at Commentary magazine): “In the America of 2012, you need a picture ID to get on a plane, ride Amtrak, open a bank account, perform any transaction with most businesses and government, as well as buy alcohol or tobacco. Why is voting less important? . . . Acquiring a voter ID is not complicated. In states that have passed such laws, one may be obtained from the government free of charge, though costs such as for transportation are incurred.”

No, we don’t need them (courtesy of Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice): “Seniors, veterans, and minorities . . . face hurdles of access, time, and costs in obtaining such IDs. The timing of these laws, passed in a major election year, also makes them suspect . . . There is no way to get the new state-issued photo IDs into the hands of all eligible Americans covered by the new laws before the election, especially given the rickety condition of the ID-issuing operations in many states.”

The middle ground (courtesy of Richard Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law): “America needs to move toward a more rational way of administering elections—and beyond the stale debate in which Republicans complain about voter fraud and Democrats yell about voter suppression . . . We need a national solution. For federal elections, a nonpartisan US agency should register every eligible voter to vote and provide each one with a photographic identification card to be used for voting anywhere in the United States. It would be up to the federal government to pay for the documentation, such as birth certificates, needed to verify identity.”

Now that’s what I call a civilized debate.

Which camp do you fall in when it comes to voter ID laws? Stake an allegiance in COMMENTS.

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Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence |