October 15, 2012

Political Science Professor Jim Read Writes Op-Ed for Saint Cloud Times on the Proposed Voter ID Amendment

Voter ID doesn't prevent fraud

Proposed amendment will negatively affect students


Students at my university come from many cities and towns in Minnesota and other states. Many will be voting for the first time Nov. 6. They will not all vote the same way. They differ politically like the rest of us. What brings them together is that their college campus has become their new home for four years, the community where they emerge as adults and full participants in our democracy.
On the ballot in Minnesota this year is a proposed constitutional amendment that may significantly affect the voting opportunities of college students, renters who move frequently, and others who for one reason or another lack the prescribed documents. At first it seems reasonable to require that you show a government-issued photo ID to prove who you are when you show up to vote. But proving who you are is only part of it. Proving where you live using government-issued ID is often the more difficult part.

Few college students have a driver’s license listing the college campus as their official residence. Instead it still lists their parents’ address in Duluth, Minneapolis, International Falls and so on. Of course students can apply for absentee ballots, or travel to their parents’ home on Election Day, or pay for a new driver’s license with new address before the old one has expired. But few will realize this until it is too late. Voting rates among college students would plummet if on Election Day they had to produce government-issued photo ID listing the address of their college residence.

Minnesota election law does not require this. Instead students living on campus can use university-issued photo IDs to vote if their university has provided the county with student residency information. Students living off-campus may use utility bills to prove residency or have someone registered in the district personally vouch for where they live.

What will happen to college students and others in comparable circumstances if the Voter ID amendment passes?

Everything depends on how the legislation implementing the amendment is written. Nothing in the actual text of the amendment rules out multiple types of photo identification and multiple methods of documenting residency, as under current law.

Voter impersonation could be prevented without burdening legitimate voters.

But many advocates of the proposed amendment push legislation that would impose significant new obstacles for college students and others with new addresses.

The Voter ID bill vetoed last year by Gov. Mark Dayton would have required government-issued photo ID with birth date and current address in the precinct — all on the same card. The bill specifically prohibited the use of student photo ID cards. A valid driver’s license showing a different address was invalid documentation for voting. Individuals could apply in advance for special Voter ID cards issued free of charge, but would have to apply for new cards every time they moved — perhaps even from one dormitory to another.

The real costs here are time costs: a bureaucratic obstacle course that imposes far-greater burdens on some voters than others.

Advocates claim such measures are necessary to prevent voter fraud. Yet a 2012 Carnegie-Knight investigation found only 10 cases of voter impersonation fraud nationwide since 2000, and none in Minnesota. How many thousands of legitimate voters are we willing to burden to prevent one rare (or nonexistent) case of impersonation?

Real election fraud — the kind that changes outcomes — happens when ballot boxes disappear, vote counts are falsely reported or voters of a certain race or political persuasion are prevented from voting. Fraud of that type has occurred often in U.S. history. Voter ID does nothing to prevent it.

I will vote “no” on this amendment. But the amendment itself is only Round One. If it passes, Round Two — how elected officials write the implementing legislation — immediately begins. Those who value the equal right of all citizens to vote should contact elected officials and candidates in both parties to insist that our election laws safeguard that right.