Sunday, January 20, 2008

To ID or Not To ID

There are many moments in time when we need to prove our identity.

Getting a Social Security card.

Applying for certain medical benefits from the State of Illinois

Applying for CHIP

But registering to vote is another matter entirely. Look closely at the form:

If this form is submitted by mail and you have never registered to vote in the jurisdiction you are now registering in, then you must send with this application either (i) a copy of a current and valid photo identification, or (ii) a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document that shows your name and address. If you do not provide the information required above, then you will be required to provide election officials with this information the first time you vote at a polling place or by in-person absentee ballot.

Whether registering in person or by mail, you only need a piece of paper that has the name and address you are registering with, you are not required to produce a photo ID, let alone any other proof that verifies you are who you say you are. This also applies when voting.

If you register by mail, you must vote in person the first time, either at the polling place, in-person absentee or early voting. Exception: UOCAVA and the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act (HAVA 303[b][2][c]).

If you registered to vote by mail after January 1, 2003, and you did not submit a copy of the required identification with the application for registration at that time, and you will be voting in a jurisdiction for the first time, then you will be required to submit a copy of one of the following:
• A current and valid photo identification
• Utility bill
• Bank statement
• Government check
• Paycheck
• Government document

If you use a photo id, and the photo ID has an address, it must match the registration address. If a photo id is not used, the document must show your name and address. It must be presented to the election officials before being permitted to vote. If you do not present a required form of identification, you may vote a Provisional Ballot.

The emphasis is on making sure the name and address matches, not whether the voter is who they claim to be.

Cook County rules are right in line with the state. And they are equally flexible for just plain voting. Produce two pieces of paper that show the same name and address you are claiming, and basically you are good to go.

The only time that a person is required to produce something showing they really are who they claim to be is when voting early.

Voters casting an early ballot must display valid identification such as a current driver’s license, a state-issued ID card or another government-issued ID with a photograph.

The requirement of photo identification for an early voter is stricter than other identification requirements for people casting a ballot at their polling place on Election Day.

The votes cast during the early voting time period will not be counted until Election Day.

Why does all this matter? Voter Identification laws have been passed in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Missouri. All but Missouri's have been upheld when challenged in court. Indiana is the latest to join in the fray, and the Supreme Court has heard the case. At issue is whether Indiana's law violates the Constitution, deters voter fraud, or disenfrachises voters. Neither side produced evidence showing that fraud was deterred or voters were prevented from voting.

Illinois may consider a similar requirement. It is a hot button issue, that is often seen as an effort by the Republicans to reduce the number of votes going to Democrats, since the voters who may be disadvantaged come from groups that usually vote Democrat. I think both sides are missing the boat here. The integrity of the voting process must be maintained, and the ability of eligible voters to register and vote must be supported. These are not mutually exclusive goals.

Will requiring proof of identity deter fraud? If we institute the proof of identity requirement on the front end during the registration process and then validate again at the time of voting, we may actually do just that. Proving voter fraud appears to be devilishly hard in the current environment. Certainly the Illinois process as it now stands does nothing to deter fraud. There is no requirement to prove your identity, which leaves the door wide open. If we can demand proof of identity of the early voters, why not of all voters or those registering to vote?

Will it create a hardship for the poor, minorities, seniors and others? Anyone applying for a state issued identification card has to provide proof of identity. How many people have been denied an ID card for failing to meet the requirements? What options are there to help those folks overcome any obstacles to receiving the card? Surely they exist and can be implemented. Certainly such options should be identified and implemented if we are going to ensure that all Illinios citizens have the ability to access state services. If we can do that, why not identify and mitigate the obstacles to proving identity when registering to vote and voting?

Whatever we do will be informed by the Supreme Court's decision in the Indiana case, expected sometime in June. To the extent we are able, let's identify and take the steps necessary to ensure the integrity of the vote. Let's at least consider closing an obvious hole that does not deter fraud, and may actually invite it.


Al Iverson said...

I'm torn. You could still sway me to your point of view but as of yet I'm not there. Previously living in Minnesota, a driver's license/photo ID was pretty much a de-facto requirement for voting. It didn't seem to deter anybody from my limited experience. Why is this such a concern?

Kheris said...

This is an issue that developed due to concerns about alleged voting fraud. It has been portrayed as an assault on the voting rights of the poor and minorities, especially in the south. The Atlanta newspapers were The Republicans are cast as the villains, with the Democrats as the cavalry riding to the rescue. Although in Nevada the Democrats got hoisted on their own petard over the issue.

In the case of Georgia, it was alleged that the requirement amounted to a hidden poll tax (i.e. the cost of obtaining a birth certificate in order to get a free state photo ID), and thus was a violation of Voting Rights legislation. Voter ID came up as a question at the recent State Senator Candidate Forum and both Steans and Elder are opposed to adopting legislation similar to Indiana's. However, it would seem this issue has real legs if we can get past the partisan maneuvering.

I came across this article about state identification requirements just today. 25 states require that voters present identification at the polls. Of these, 7 require photo ID. Illinois is absent from the list since there is no requirement to produce identification of any sort. Last year this ward experienced a very contentious election, with allegations of electioneering and fraud. In my experience, the best defense against fraud is to close the gaps that enable it to be practiced. In the case of Illinois, the gap is wide and available. Absentee ballots have been mentioned as opportunities for fraud nationwide, leading to the suggestion that we need a national voting law, or some way to crosscheck voter rolls across states. See again that WSJ article and the comment from the 'snowbird'. Whether a national initiative develops, or it continues to be a totally state function, there are opportunities to improve the integrity of the voting process. Should Illinois choose to go down the path that the other 7 states have traveled, then it should do so systematically and with full consideration of the issues attached. That includes looking at options to remove barriers to compliance by the electorate.

Al Iverson said...

Thanks for the insight, much appreciated.

Fargo said...

I think that eliminating this loophole in Illinois is long overdue. Last year's 49th ward aldermanic election is an excellent illustration of why photo ID should be required for voting.

Hugh said...

Hi Kheris.

voting is a right, early voting is not

if for some reason you don't have id or don't want to show it at early voting, you are not prevented from voting

the extra id checks are in place in early voting because as a service to voters any Chicagoan can vote at any early voting location in the City

Early Voting

So we don't have the benefit of local election judges in place who presumably know the neighborhood and to some extent the neighbors. Local knowledge is useful, it can sometimes help recognize certain obvious scams like a person trying to vote while registered at 1060 W Addison

it may seem draconian to some but it is a reasonable compensation

Kheris said...

I don't disagree with that, but I do think the entire process needs tightening up. How to do that without disenfranchising people is a real dilemma.