The right way to do Voter ID?

A lot to like in this proposal by voter turnout expert, Michael McDonald.  And, as with so many things, the rest of the modern world has already pretty much figured out how to make this work:

I propose a national identification card to be issued by the government to all citizens of the United States when they turn 16. This identification would serve not only as required voter identification when someone reaches voting age, it would also serve as their voter registration. There are many benefits to this proposal, including one that should appeal to Trump: reinforcing a virtual wall to better track who is and is not an American citizen.

Many democracies around the world have national identity cards, while experiencing no ill tendencies towards authoritarianism. Indeed, my proposal echoes one made by former president Jimmy Carter. Following the 2000 election, the Carter-Baker commission issued a number of recommendations, including voter identification if — and this is an important condition — all persons are given identification.

Having the government take responsibility for voter registration is actually a very old idea. It is how elections were run during America’s first century as a country. Local governments created lists of the people who owned property or paid taxes, which defined the eligible voters.

Making the government responsible for registering voters again would solve many election administration problems. True universal registration would obliterate the burden on individuals to register, and to re-register whenever they move. Numerous studies find reducing voter registration costs increases voter turnout. Democracy works best when its citizenry is engaged.

As much as anything, national ID cards tend to freak out privacy advocates.  But, unsurprisingly, I’m very much in agreement with McDonald on this:

With many competing entrenched interests, introducing a national identification card is a controversial proposition. And yet in our modern technological world of big data and connectivity, the government and corporations already have a detailed profile of you unless you live in a hut and grow your own food. A national identification card would not impinge on people’s privacy and it could do a lot of good — by reducing election costs, increasing voter turnout and improving the integrity of our elections. [emphasis mine]

Not perfect, and yes there would be some downsides, but arguably far better than what we’re currently doing.  If those voter ID types were really about something other than voter suppression, they would get on board with a proposal like this.  I’m not holding my breath.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

2 Responses to The right way to do Voter ID?

  1. ohwilleke says:

    Motor Voter came close on this score. From a practical perspective, having Democratic donors spend dollars on paying for the ID cards of people who don’t have them might work almost as well. The population that doesn’t have ID isn’t overwhelmingly huge and for the most part is pretty geographically distinct (i.e. overwhelmingly in a modest share of all census blocks). And, the gratitude of people who get IDs might be returned in kind at the ballot box.

    The biggest counterargument is that people may be deliberately avoiding getting IDs not because of the cost or the time necessary to do so, but because a very large percentage of the population in a lot of places that have large numbers of people who don’t have IDs are the subject of collection actions by debt collection firms and don’t want to be found. If you don’t want to be found, giving a valid address to a state agency that handles IDs or registering to vote with a valid address is not a good strategy.

  2. R, Jenrette says:

    A modern complication is that Americans are moving around so much and have to show they are eligible to vote within the state. That could involve some national list so that when a state has an application, the national list can be notified of the change.
    I never gave a thought when I moved from FL to NC that I needed to notify Florida to take my name off the voter rolls. There are probably a lot of such people on state rolls.

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