The constitutionality of photo ID requirements was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 2008 case. Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, South Dakota and Indiana have had photo ID statutes in effect for several years.
Most recently, a state judge upheld Pennsylvania’s photo ID law. The state supreme court has agreed to hear an appeal from the American Civil Liberties Union. The U.S. Department of Justice has moved to block implementation of new photo ID laws in South Carolina and Texas under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Section 5, which was set up to guard against racial discrimination, requires Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota to obtain approval from the DOJ for election changes. Texas and South Carolina are both countersuing the DOJ, but Texas is also challenging the constitutionality of VRA’s Section 5.
Rhode Island state Sen. Harold Metts, the lead sponsor of the voter ID law that is now operative in his state, sees room for common ground.
“The key word is balance,” Metts, a Democrat in Providence, said. “Voter fraud is real; it has a history here in Rhode Island; and it is a problem in other states. What we did here was very reasonable and very necessary, and I think we can be a model for other states. I certainly think it’s possible to have too many requirements and to create too many hurdles and burdens. That might be true in the more conservative states; it’s not true here.”
Rhode Island’s new law was tested for the first time during April’s presidential primary, when voters were asked to show drivers’ licenses, passports, birth certificates or health club IDs. Voters who did not have the necessary identification were permitted to cast provisional ballots. Beginning in 2014, only a photo ID will be accepted, but the state will provide free IDs to anyone who needs one, and provisional ballots will remain in effect for anyone who lacks an ID on Election Day.
Left-leaning advocacy groups including the ACLU, the Advancement Project, Project Vote and the Brennan Center for Justice claim voter ID laws tend to disenfranchise minorities. But Metts, who is African-American, views the ID laws as a necessary protection against fraud.
“There’s always a concern about disenfranchisement and we should make every effort to ensure that everyone who is eligible to vote can vote,” Metts said. “But it got to the point where there was a such fear over disenfranchisement that people just buried their heads when it came time to deal with voter fraud, and that was not healthy for our democracy.”
Metts initially took action because several of his own constituents were the victims of voter fraud, he explained. “While it is possible to put too many restrictions and requirements in place, this has not happened in Rhode Island,” he said, “and it does not need to be an issue [in] other states so long as the laws [are] crafted in a way that’s fair.”