Question Day: Does Voter ID Matter?

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Caleb Baucum asked: "[W]hat is your opinion of requiring a photo ID in order to vote? While the rhetoric is that it harms poor voters without IDs, do you know of any research that can back up this claim? Given that an ID is needed to drive, open a bank account, get a library card, etc, it would seem only a very small number of people do not have IDs. Of those, how many actually vote?"

My position on this is that voting should be easy for everyone eligible.

From that point of view, the question isn't so much whether the photo ID is a good idea in some abstract sense, but whether anything that makes voting harder is justified by some other, overwhelming, factor. And given that there is basically zero evidence that imposter fraud is a significant problem, that makes voter ID an easy call: I'm strongly against it.

Now, it's also true, as I read the evidence, that Democratic claims that voter ID is a major disenfranchisement are mostly hype. But if your standard is that voting should be easy for everyone, then it's still an easy call.

If it were up to me, I'd do a lot more to increase voter participation. I'd at least want same-day registration, but preferably would have an automatic, permanent voter registration system. I'd push states to consolidate election days and to reduce the number of things citizens must vote on (start with judges, and work from there). I'd get rid of nonpartisan elections and reduce or eliminate ballot measures. And I'd lower the voting age, hoping that getting high school or even middle school kids into the habit of voting would carry over into their adult years. I'm more ambivalent about some other initiatives such as vote-by-mail, early voting, weekend voting or an Election Day holiday, but mainly because the evidence is mixed about whether they increase voting or make it easier.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

(Jonathan Bernstein covers U.S. politics for Bloomberg View. He is co-editor of "The Making of the Presidential Candidates 2012." Follow him on Twitter at @JBPlainblog.)

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