Should eligible voters be required to show a government-issued photo identification before casting their ballots?
That’s a question legislators across the country have attempted to tackle for years, citing voter fraud as the primary reason for concern.
In the West Virginia Legislature, where the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday passed a voter ID bill, Republicans say requiring identification to vote is a necessity.
“The idea is that we be proactive and prevent something from happening,” said Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, and the bill’s lead sponsor.
According to Lane, 96 percent of adults in West Virginia have some form of government-issued identification. Meanwhile, according to Secretary of State and U.S. Census Bureau figures, about 65 percent of West Virginians are registered to vote.
That seemingly nullifies Democrats’ argument that the bill serves only to disenfranchise voters. They say minorities and the elderly are less likely to have the necessary identification, thus the bill would suppress voter turnout.
West Virginians have recorded abysmally low numbers at the polls in the past few elections. While political apathy might stem from various reasons, surely the possibility of showing a photo ID — which most eligible voters already have — isn’t one of them.
Both sides exaggerate this issue. Supporters of voter ID often claim voter fraud is a growing threat to democracy. However, an official with the Secretary of State’s office told the Judiciary Committee the office “has not found any substantiated cases of in-person voter fraud,” though there have been problems with fraud related to absentee ballots, which the bill does not address.
Meanwhile opponents say such a requirement will keep voters home on Election Day and the bill only seeks to keep voter turnout low. That ignores the fact that many people may not have transportation to their local precinct or may not feel informed enough about the candidates or the issues to cast their ballots.
What a voter ID law would do, however, is ensure those who go to the polls on Election Day are who they claim to be. In a day where identity theft is a common occurrence, a voter ID law could protect both the voter and democracy. After all, most voters likely already have identification with them when they go to vote.
And it’s not only that — a proper ID is often required for a variety of things, from making a return at Target to buying cough syrup. Why shouldn’t the important, patriotic act of voting also require proof of the voter’s identity?