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Wikipedia showing states with varying levels of voter ID requirement.  Grey=zero, Yellow=request photo ID, Green=require photo ID, Blue=non photo ID

One of my readers contacted me to ask what the fuss was about “this Voter ID thing”.  Being British, he did not understand the controversy, so I thought I’d explore this a bit further.  For the benefit of American readers, in the UK you do not need any ID of any kind at all to vote, you just hove up and do the thing.  The cards that are issued in Britain, and sent to your home address, are to assist the Clerk and Presiding Officer, not to grant the right to vote.

Voter ID has come out of the wild red yonder as a fix to a non-existent problem.  For 236 years all a citizen needed to vote was his signature.   Now Republicans in a number of states have drawn up plans to require voters to provide the clerk with some form of officially approved photo ID to support their right to cast a vote.  The reason being put forward is that this is to stop voter fraud.  Sounds good, but in-person voter impersonation is already exceedingly rare with less than a dozen reported cases in the last ten years.  It seems a solution to fix nothing.  If anyone can show me any validated court cases of widespread voter fraud then I’d love to see them.  Meantime authorities might be more concerned with the computer touch-screen systems which seem far more open to misuse and hacking.

Strangely, perhaps to outsiders, Americans do not all carry sufficient government issued ID to satisfy this test.  The Brennan survey shows that 11% of US citizens, approximately 21,000,000 people, fall into this group and as always the poor, the racially excluded, the old and the vulnerable feature more prominently in this group.

Not being able to prove ID would reduce turnout and the projected figures for this are given as being about 2% of a drop-off.

But, as my correspondent might say, doesn’t everyone have a birth certificate drivers licence or similar?  Well, no actually an elderly lady Vivette Applewhite quoted in theracette had no birth certificate and no driver’s licence.   Millions of Americans do not drive.  Millions more do not have the right kind of documentation, and obtaining it costs them money.  Many states rather than asking “How can we get ID to those who need it?” say instead “How can we keep people who need ID from voting?”  $40 to $50 can be a lot to someone on $12,000 gross.

Many argue that you need ID to drive a car or fly or buy a beer or rent a movie, so why not for voting?  Well flying is not constitutionally guaranteed, voting is and it is clear no ID is needed.  And an argument saying you need ID to fly is like comparing cable TV to the right to trial by jury.  It’s also plain illegal. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 clearly states that no disenfranchisement is allowed and that no laws be enacted that in any way result in the loss or impediment to the right to vote.

And this has led to a number of cases being raised in courts across the union in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Iowa, Florida, and Iowa etc.

So why do it?  If the entire operation only involves such a small number of electors why make such a song and dance?  Well the reason is that in America, unlike say, oh Russia, the electors do not vote for the President. They vote for the Electoral College who in turn elect the President.  As President Putin said when he took a rare opportunity to discuss the matter back in 2005 “In the United States you first elect the electors and then they vote for the Presidential candidates.  In Russia the President is elected through the direct vote of the population.  This might be more democratic.”

Deterring even say 1% of the electorate from voting, and deterring say another 1% who do have ID but forget it on the day and never return to the booths with it, might well have a decisive effect in this razor sharp election.

Remember, in 2000 the election was won by 537 Florida voters who tipped the State’s electoral college votes to give a final Judge-endorsed Electoral College result of 271/266.  In 2004 it was close again 286/251.

In 2012 there are a number of states whose EC votes are finely balanced.  This is all about tipping the Electoral college votes in favour of Romney.

Copyright David Macadam 2012