Voting and IDs

Very interesting story this morning on NPR, about new voter ID requirements in the state of Georgia.

Controversy Surrounds Georgia Voter ID Proposal

Minorities and the elderly in Georgia strongly oppose a proposal to require photo IDs for voters at the polls. Both groups say the plan, if enacted, would restrict their access to the polls. Supporters say they don’t want to stop anyone from voting, just safeguard the integrity of the election process. Susanna Capelouto of Georgia Public Broadcasting reports.

Those who advocate photo IDs at polling places forget that not everyone has one. Not everyone flies on airplanes. Not everyone has a drivers license. If a photo ID is required to vote, it had better be 1) free, and 2) easily available everywhere to everyone. Otherwise it’s a poll tax.

Posted on March 24, 2005 at 4:05 PM33 Comments


Roy Owens March 24, 2005 4:24 PM

Is the worry that a gatekeeper can turn away voters by deciding the face doesn’t match a picture of it? This is such an obvious way of cheating, having an unelected official veto the voting of ‘the wrong kind of people’, I’m surprised it wasn’t thought of sooner.

Adam Shostack March 24, 2005 4:41 PM


Actually it was thought of earlier, which is why a lot of the people who oppose it are veterans of the civil rights movement. They understand that some states got very clever in their voting selection processes.

From that perspective, the precursor to this was “literacy tests” for voters.

Bruce Schneier March 24, 2005 4:48 PM

As far as I am concerned, requiring a photo-ID to vote is a poll tax. If a state is going to require one, it had better be 1) free, and 2) easy to obtain.

The NPR article said that a good percentage of senior citizens don’t have photo IDs. And the idiot who said that “you need a photo ID to board a plane, so what’s wrong with needing one to vote” just wasn’t thinking; this is about all those people who have never flown on airplanes.


Jarrod March 24, 2005 5:26 PM

Perhaps someone can fill me in on the problem with requiring government-issued photographic identification upon voting (aside from the cost and time of getting one). Requirements for voting in state and federal elections in the United States require that one be a citizen, and while it’s relatively easy for a single person or small group of people to get a fake ID, it’s not so easy for larger groups to do so without word getting out. There have been worries in a number of California districts about noncitizens voting illegally because there’s really not much checking that occurs on voter registration. My girlfriend does not have a California ID of any kind for the county registrar to check, and when she registered, she was not challenged for additional information, nor did the polling place request additional proof. This showed me that it would be trivial to be able to vote in an election whether or not one is legally allowed, which seems a major security flaw in itself.

lightning March 24, 2005 6:54 PM

Note also that ID is very easy to steal, especially from the poor and elderly.

How long does it take to get a replacement ID? How do you get a replacement ID when your ID has been stolen?

Much opportunity to game the system, here.

Davi Ottenheimer March 24, 2005 7:12 PM

This sounds like an enhancement from the same folks who wanted voters to be registered in the ChoicePoint database…that’s how the Republicans “safeguarded the integrity of the voting process” in Florida, right?

“If Vice President Al Gore is wondering where his Florida votes went, rather than sift through a pile of chad, he might want to look at a “scrub list” of 173,000 names targeted to be knocked off the Florida voter registry by a division of the office of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. A close examination suggests thousands of voters may have lost their right to vote based on a flaw-ridden list that included purported “felons” provided by a private firm with tight Republican ties.

Early in the year, the company, ChoicePoint, gave Florida officials a list with the names of 8,000 ex-felons to “scrub” from their list of voters. But it turns out none on the list were guilty of felonies, only misdemeanors. The company acknowledged the error, and blamed it on the original source of the list — the state of Texas.

Florida officials moved to put those falsely accused by Texas back on voter rolls before the election. Nevertheless, the large number of errors uncovered in individual counties suggests that thousands of eligible voters may have been turned away at the polls.

Florida is the only state that pays a private company that promises to “cleanse” voter rolls.”

theorbtwo March 24, 2005 8:09 PM

Re having some random person say that you don’t look like your photo being a good way to ward off the wrong type of person… how is this different from saying “your signature doesn’t look like the one I have on file”?

(To partaly answer my own question: Because there is a record of both signatures that people can go back and examine. However, it should also be noted that people who change appearence the most are quite likely to be interpreted by some as “the wrong sort of person” — people who get more piercings, dye or bleach their hair, etc.)

Davi Ottenheimer March 24, 2005 9:18 PM

Last time I checked some or all of the following are considered good-enough for government agencies who ask for ID. So if we’re headed towards photo-ID for voting, then perhaps we should also consider the impact to these documents:
– bank statement
– paycheck
– government check
– utility bill
– Medicare or Medicaid documents

I can see it now, checks will have our portrait printed on them, and paychecks will be a ciphertext hidden in a photo of our face. Where will it end? Will we get photos of flowers from the bank that are an encrypted and signed version of our statement?

rjh March 24, 2005 9:38 PM

I suggest examining the details of how Mexico handles voter registration and polling booths. Of course there is one difference. Mexico actually wanted their system to work. It had to be understood by the entire public and visibly hard to corrupt. The first few elections there was genuine severe danger of corruption. (People working on the project had to be carefully guarded and there was real danger.)

They used photo IDs, but with the goal of eliminating corruption, voter intimidation, etc. And the cost was a small fraction of the pork barrel farces proposed in the US.

Davi Ottenheimer March 24, 2005 9:48 PM

Well, wouldn’t you know it. California is only one of five states that does not require photo ID and the California Secretary of State has an initiative in circulation right now that will require a photo ID to vote.

Note that it was submitted by Robert D. Ming, an Orange County — home of the John Birch Society — Republican who actually lost in the last election:

Voter Identification Requirement. Initiative Statute.
Summary Date: 03/10/05 Circulation Deadline: 08/08/05 Signatures Required: 373,816

Proponent: Robert D. Ming (949) 643-2632

Requires that voters present one of four types of picture identification before voting: (1) California driver's license; (2) California Department of Motor Vehicles issued identification card; (3) military identification card; or (4) United States Passport. Requires that election precinct officers confirm the identity of each voter and record their identification number. Provides that failure to comply with these requirements will constitute election fraud, punishable as a felony. Allows voters who cannot provide identification to vote, in the form of a provisional ballot. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local governments: Increased county costs to verify voters' identification at each election held. These costs probably would not be significant." 

Here’s more about Ming:

Now comes the really interesting part, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) enacted in October 2002 has ID requirements including a statewide voter database:

Bruce, if you really feel that a poll tax is coming, I suggest you call or write these folks (i.e. Ming, the Govenator and the Secretary of State) to give them a piece of your mind about all this. Good luck!

Jose Carlos March 25, 2005 6:36 AM

Reading this from Spain, Europe I am a bit surprised of the concern about having an ID card. And making it similar to a poll tax. Here ID cards are mandatory. Of course they have photo, and they are given for free. And it is needed to check identity of the voter. I don’t know how do you manage to check that a voter is who he is claiming to be if you don’t have to show any ID.
When an election is near, the list of voters is published, and anyone can check that he is in the list, and their data (name, address, ID number) are right, existing a method for asking for correction if they are wrong. You cannot vote if they are not right and match your ID card.
In my opinion, this way problems like the ones which happened with some ethnical groups in Florida would have vanished.

wiredog March 25, 2005 7:18 AM

Regarding the Spanish system: Ouch! The list of voters, including their names, addresses, and ID numbers are published? What a wonderful way for ID theives to get hold of lots of useful data.

Anonymous March 25, 2005 7:49 AM

In Germany, before an election everybody gets an “invitation” postcard telling you where your polling station is and when the election takes place. On election day, you take this postcard and your (free) national ID card with you to the voting booth. No need for registering or for additional photo IDs.

Anonymous March 25, 2005 9:40 AM

So, here’s some missing backstory. Republicans tend to favor tighter regulation of voting, except on military absentee ballots; Democrats the reverse. That’s because older folks and minorities — groups that tend to lean Democratic — are disproportionately likely to be discouraged from voting if there are extra hoops to jump through.

Of course, Bruce isn’t trying to play interest group politics, it’s just a Constitutional thing. But worth knowing.

Javier Kohen March 25, 2005 9:48 AM

Well, in Argentina not only is the list of voters hanged on the voting booths’ walls at election time (we usually vote at schools), but we also have to pay for our IDs and the price is significant for lower income families.

Moreover, you have to change your national ID at certain ages about 3 times before you turn 18 (so they can change the picture as you grow, I guess), and pay each time. Besides that we have a passport and also –many of you won’t believe this– police photo IDs. Passports are really expensive and mandatory if you want to leave the country (though gettin one is not particularly difficult for a citizen).
Although the police IDs are optional, many of us have them because they’re credit card-size and therefore more convenient to carry in the wallet than the other official IDs.

As far as I’m aware of, in Argentina they don’t accept any other photo ID as identification (except a library card at the library, or a medical care ID at the doctor’s office, but to get those you usually need your ID). Upon using a credit card you are supposed to show your photo ID.

Yet I’ve never heard of identity theft in this country. You hear of “dead people” voting, but the living usually have no trouble.

ac March 25, 2005 10:57 AM

Re: Lazlo. Next time you run into a homeless panhandler, ask them for $3. Repeat until you succeed in getting $3 from one of them. Keep in mind the whole time that the homeless can and do vote (they often use shelters as their “addresses”).

A low hurdle is still a hurdle. For privileges, like driving a car, I don’t care about hurdles. For rights, like voting, I do.

Bruce Schneier March 25, 2005 11:07 AM

“In Florida, a state Identification card can be obtained for $3. That’s hardly a poll tax.”

Look at two things: cost and ease of issuance. Something that is free but difficult to get is just as bad as something expensive and easy to get.

ac March 25, 2005 11:24 PM

If you think it’s to difficult for you to spend $3 and some of your time to get a photo ID, you should not be voting. You are almost certainly ignorant enough about the candidates and their positions to be allowed anywhere near a phone booth

boo March 26, 2005 9:30 AM

It’s $3 now, but that can change quickly. In NJ, it’s $27 and requires that you show a birth certificate, certificate of naturalization or similar primary document, and a secondary ID like a marriage certificate, pilot’s license, or college photo ID with transcript, PLUS a proof of address such as a recent utility bill. All originals, no copies accepted, and it requires a day off work.
That’s a costly endeavor.

Scott March 26, 2005 12:16 PM

In Texas, there are a slew of bills moving right now on this score. The worst of them would add whether you’re a citizen or non-citizen onto the face of your DL (but not other info that might also disqualify you to vote), in addition to merely requiring an ID to vote. Dumb, bordering on malicious.

Also, DLs are not necessarily “easy” to obtain here, and certainly you can lose them for all kind of petty reasons that wouldn’t necessarily disqualify you to vote, like warrants issued over failure to pay traffic tickets. For those folks, the other side would presumably argue, the state also has a separate ID card option that does not confer license to drive, but they’ll arrest you for outstanding warrants at the DMV when you go to apply for an ID, so effectively unpaid traffic tickets can disqualify you from voting, under that scenario.

Pancho Villa March 26, 2005 11:11 PM

Re: ac. Next time you see a panhandler and you ask him for $3 and it doesn’t work, try a different tactic. Offer him a bottle of cheap wine, a couple of blunts, or a fifth of whiskey in exchange for $3. He will find the $3. Just as he has to make a decision as to which is more important — going sober or forking over the $3, he will have to make a decision as to which is more important — voting or spending the $3 on something else.

Every fraudulent voter is in essence taking my vote from me and those who are legitimate voters. A photo ID is neither a high, nor unconstitutional hurdle.

Shelly Nuessle March 28, 2005 10:51 AM

I am an election judge in Missouri, and we have multiple ways of authenticating ID for voters

Voter registration card – and MO has motor-voter and library voter registration so its not hard to obtain one (and its free).

Any government photo ID – Driver’s license, non- drivers license (a nifty little card that looks like the D/L but is a different color – does need a birth certificate to obtain.), military ID.

Medicare/Medicaid card, or utility bill, with current address.

and my favorite, if two judges at the precinct can verify who you are…..

And, in the national elections, we were instructed to allow voting on the nation-wide races to anyone. These were filed as provisional ballots (with additional voter information) and would be reviewed if necessary to settle a race.

James March 28, 2005 11:51 AM

I testified against a similar bill in the Ohio Senate (SB 36). I’ll go ahead and copy the comments from my testimony below.

I think the bill died here. My presentation was that there was little reason to require this…voter fraud is few and far between. The most common type of voter fraud is that of a person registered in two places and vote in both (usually because they have property in both places, and are interested in voting in municipal issues in both locations. Though I can’t be sure, I would suspect many of them aren’t voting for president twice, because that’s not their interest.) The second form of voter fraud, which is probably larger, involves poll-workers being “exceptionally helpful” to voters in rural areas, who walk out not knowing whom they voted for. At any rate, such fraud is findable through alternative means, but, more over, would not be prevented using photo ID cards.

So after the Secretary of State’s office admits that the photo ID requirement would not really do much, for all the reasons above, but wasn’t necessarily against the provision, I got to speak (on the points noted below.)

The head of the committee said to me “well, other than the dehumanizing aspects would this cause any problems?” I responded that, yes, it would create more opportunities for fraud because it would give more reason to have a fraudulent ID card, and it creates an unnecessary illusion of security, which is a lot of the problems associated with photo ID cards.

He said that he disagreed, and that the purpose of the bill was to “raise trust in the system.” I said that voting, more than anything else we do, is enshrined as a very peculiar right that’s difficult to interfere with. When someone sues to vote without photo ID, and if I should be called to testfy about the law as an expert witness, I’ll say that the committee and the bill co-sponsors knew that the photo ID requirement would not have any effect on voter fraud, knew that voter fraud was so minor anyway to begin with, and yet voted to have this encumbrance put into Ohio law to satisfy some weird photo ID fetish that people have (because cheap plastic cards make some people feel all warm and fuzzy inside.)

The committee chairman ended testimony on SB 36. He still was friendly to me afterwards.

Im a drivers license privacy and photo identification card security expert. My contribution to this field is a whitepaper called Security Document Theory which is regarded as the base framework for understanding photo ID security issues. [interesting farkers should google the term] I have also had the honor to be a pollworker since 1999.

I have come here today to discuss the many problems with Senate Bill 36.

*SB 36 is entirely unneeded. One of the advantages of the polling place system is that precinct workers are mostly from the neighborhoods in which they serve. The vast majority of Ohioans will vote under the supervision of their friends and neighbors, as well as with their friends and neighbors. To require the presentation of photo ID would be shamefully asinine for all parties involved.
*SB 36 would not prevent fraud thats not already prevented by other means. For instance, the likelihood that an individual would vote under another voters registration record is low, as that fraudster has little way of knowing if that person voted that day or not. The prevention of registration fraud is handled by systems already in place under the Help America Vote Act. Due to many issues, multiple vote-fraud is extremely difficult to do successfully.
*SB 36 is in conflict with Ohio law. In 1977 the Ohio legislature purposefully enacted an ORC section stating that no Ohioan would be required to have a photo ID card. It was created to reassure Ohioans that they would never be required to have a photo ID card if they didnt want one or were incapable of having one (this stemmed from the negative reaction that occurred when Ohio mandated the photo on the drivers license.) This section has also served a useful role in reducing photo ID fraud by reducing the reasons for having a fraudulent ID card.
*The requirements of SB 36 further complicate provisions already in place for individuals who have non-photo Ohio drivers licenses and state ID cards, either because of religious objection or facial disfigurement reasons (which were taken into consideration in HAVA.)

Anti-fraud recommendations in lieu of SB 36
*Requiring that the archived signature in the pollbook be hidden from the voter (so that the voter must know their own signature.)
*Eliminating the 11am/4pm pollbook displays (so that the public does not know who voted until the end of the voting day.)
*Consider the most brilliant anti-voter-fraud security measure yet devised: the ink-dyed index finger.

Incidentally, no one has mentioned this yet, but, Georgia requires a fingerprint for a driver’s license/state ID card. So that more or less requires a fingerprint for voting, which is also worth discussing.

Israel Torres March 28, 2005 1:30 PM

there is no free gov system that works the way we would like it to work when it comes to prove you are you, or prove that whomever is querying if you are you is they. until then we will be arguing this havoc for years to come. of course be careful what “we” ask for… chances are it won’t be pretty.

Israel Torres

Steven Hauser March 28, 2005 4:20 PM

Another trend is the active prosecution of voters who go to the wrong precinct to vote, a common user error in elections following redistricting and borders of counties.

This is in contrast to the Secretaries of State and party operations that suppress voting in Florida and Ohio, New Mexico, etc., who never seem to get prosecuted.

The use of “fraud prevention” as a method to suppress voting is not really a security issue as an excuse to control and manipulate elections. The numbers of documented incidences of the type of fraud that picture id’s prevent are few and far between vs. the hundreds of thousands who ended up with uncounted “provisional ballots” or who were scrubbed from the polls or excluded because of onerous registration practices or lack of follow through for moter-voter registration never making the rolls.

piglet March 28, 2005 9:05 PM

I understand the argument that making voting mroe difficult will hurt the poor, but it should be cosnidered that poor and minority voter turnout is already today, and has always been, much lower than the turnout of the general population. I wonder whether there are any ideas around as to how to change this sorry state of US democracy, rather than just fight against new ID requirements. As to the money argument (@ac, boo), I think it shouldn’t be a problem to issue ID for free to people who can’t afford the $3 or whatever, provided there is the political will to allow everybody to vote. There’s nothing to be said against reasonable identification requirements, as long as they are standardized and consistent. They shouldn’t change all the time, and they shouldn’t be confusing.

Somebody said that in Germany, national ID is free. That’s not quite true but I have never heard anybody complaining that the cost was a deterrent for would-be-voters. Overall, I almost hate to say this but I think the German registration system is not only effective but also more convenient, safer and more equitable than the “American way”. There is no need to register for elections because everybody is registered anyway with the municipality, and thereby is automatically registered as a voter. Manipulation of voter rolls and other vote-rigging techniques are therefore excluded, and registration procedures are not a special burden for the poor.

johnnyq March 29, 2005 3:12 PM

There is nothing wrong in asking for ID. The right to vote also means the right to choice. If your choice didn’t count, because Bugs Bunny voted 900+ times in Ohio, along with his friends, Daffy and Elmer, and Mary P., what is that choice worth? A little ID hurts no one. Voter Registration Cards is an option, but most states are getting away from them. This isn’t a POLL TAX, just common sense.

PS: Every time they recounted n Florida, Pres Bush’s vote number when up. It is documented, and plain as day, the only possible fraud was on the ‘voter intent’ ballots instead of following the LAW.

DMR March 29, 2005 3:48 PM

The system mentioned above in Germany sounds much like the one in Canada: registered voters are sent a card prior to the election, and this card is the ID presented to vote. Eligible voters who don’t receive a card can register with the elections office prior to the election to receive one, and I believe you can vote on election day without one with the presentation of suitable alternate ID (I’m not sure what that is). This system is easy, probably less expensive than any photo card system, and has the advantages that the validation expires at the end of the election (can’t be stolen and used in another election), and a forged or stolen voting card is probably not as useful as a universal photo ID for assisting in identity theft.

One potential disadvantage is that someone wishing to vote fradulently could conceivably steal cards from mailboxes when the cards are mailed more easily than stealing a photo ID. One hopes that strategy would be detected when unusual numbers of voters who should have received cards contact the elections office to get a replacement card. In any case it should be relatively easy to catch the cheater: when he shows up to vote with a card for which a replacement has been issued you have him.

Voters can elect to have their voting information updated annually from information they are already required to submit on their income tax forms (a checkbox on the form to agree to share the information with the elections agency). If they opt out of that, they can still register directly with the elections agency.

Incidentally, in Canada federal elections still use paper ballots, marked with a pen, which are counted manually by election officials in the presence of “scrutineers” from each party. Our last muncipal election also used paper ballots, marked with a pen, but these were counted by a machine. In both cases ballots are retained and available for a manual recount if the results are contested.

Brian Bartlett March 29, 2005 5:21 PM

Quite a few of these posts would be offensive if I didn’t already have a thick skin. I’m a homeless, disabled vet scratching by on partial disability payments and partial SSI. After bills for the month I do not have any money left over to pay for an ID (maybe $3, but that would be the limit). I don’t have a birth certificate, nor can I afford to pay for a new one. Somehow I don’t think my DD-214’s (discharge certificates) qualify as ID. I also do not have any picture ID save my VA Homeless ID card (not legal ID anywhere) and VA Health Benefits card (what an oxymoron that!). So? I’m not supposed to vote?

On the flip side, I read every voter pamphlet, including the actual legal code, from cover to cover. I keep track of the issues in every race in which I will be voting, and I even drop by online now and again to check the newspapers against the ‘net. After all, I have nothing but time on my hands, I may as well use it productively.

The disgusting thing is that I am not atypical among those who are in the same bind I am and vote. If anything, we are more aware of the issues than the typical voter who only sees the commercials on the boob tube and bases their decision that way. Sorry, send this one back to the drawing board. It won’t reduce fraud, nor yield any result save warm fuzzies for the idiots.

Bruce Schneier January 8, 2006 5:56 PM

“Hello, my name is Bugs Bunny and I’m going to go vote for George Bush 900 times.”

Only fair, since over 900 people voted for you in the last election.

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