The goal of the state should be to encourage as many people as possible to exercise their right to vote.
Proposed legislation in New York to require voters to produce government-issued photo identification in order to vote would have the opposite effect.
The legislation, its sponsors say, is an attempt to address the problem of voter fraud. But voter fraud has proven to be a myth perpetuated by those whose goal is to discriminate against immigrants, minorities and the poor — groups that traditionally have trouble obtaining government ID and who tend to vote for Democrats.
The highly respected Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law says on its website that it has been “conclusively demonstrated (that) most allegations of fraud turn out to be baseless ... Numerous other studies have reached the same conclusion.”
Yet lawmakers continue to push for voter ID laws to combat this “problem.”
One bill pending in the state Legislature (S0298), cosponsored by local Sen. Kathy Marchione, would require a valid government-issued photo identification card in order to vote. Mailed-in ballots would require a copy of the ID. An Assembly bill (A4238) would require ID, but also waive fees to obtain such ID.
Requiring identification sounds reasonable, especially if you happen to have one or all of these forms of ID. But one can’t assume that everyone carries such identification or can easily obtain it.
The American Civil Liberties Union reports that 11 percent of U.S. citizens, or 21 million Americans, don’t have a government-issued photo ID. About 25 percent of African-American citizens of voting age in the U.S. lack such ID, compared to 8 percent of whites.
Even if the state offers IDs for free, that doesn’t account for the time and expense of traveling to obtain the ID and waiting for it. Few poor people can afford to take half a day off of work and travel to a county seat to obtain an ID.
The time and travel requirement also negatively affects the elderly and disabled and those who live in rural areas who don’t have access to transportation.
In places where voter ID laws are in place, it has been shown to discourage voter turnout by 2 to 3 percentage points, which can add up to thousands of voters in a big state like New York.
New York, which has among the lowest voter turnout figures in the country, needs to encourage more citizens to participate in elections, not fewer.
Passing a discriminatory voter ID law to fix a non-existent voter fraud problem is the wrong direction to go.