Photo ID provisions important to securing elections

Newt Gingrich Former Speaker of the House
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Millions of Americans board planes every month. On each occasion, they are asked to present a photo ID to gain entry into the gate. It’s a procedure we’ve come to accept for a little peace of mind so that air travel can be more secure.

To enter many office buildings, to cash a check or to even undergo a medical procedure, photo identification is also required. Having photo identification is an essential part of engaging in commerce in the 21st century.

Yet the Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder see no reason to require a photo ID for Americans to carry out one of our most important civic duties: voting.

The Obama Justice Department has blocked a new South Carolina law that would compel residents to present a photo ID to cast a ballot. Seven other states also have adopted strict photo ID laws in an effort to prevent election fraud.

Any day now, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson will file suit against the Justice Department, asking the federal courts to overturn the Justice Department. South Carolina took the correct step to secure its own elections, particularly after a mayor in one of its cities was convicted in an election fraud scheme.

Instead of standing in the way of good government, the Obama administration should applaud efforts to bring integrity to South Carolina elections and elections in all states, especially as we enter 2012 and what will perhaps be a contentious election year.

South Carolina is among several states that have enacted voter ID laws in 2011. Mississippi voters just approved a voter ID requirement in November and are also awaiting Justice Department approval. Texas has also approved a voter ID law and is deciding whether to seek preclearance or sue the Justice Department to get the necessary approval.

Most Southern states are still governed by the 1960s-era Voting Rights Act when it comes to election laws. They must gain federal approval before enacting any changes to their election laws so as to ensure they are not discriminating against minorities.

But requiring a photo ID to vote is a common-sense security measure that helps ensure those without legal citizenship don’t vote, those with multiple homes or properties only vote once and that no one votes in place of another. Voters are harmed when illegal or fraudulent votes are cast, as they dilute or discount legitimate votes cast by honest Americans.

The arguments made by Holder are retreads of arguments which have already lost in court when the ACLU and others have sought to stop voter ID statutes in states such as Indiana and Georgia. There has not been a shred of evidence found that requiring photo identification disenfranchises minorities, as a photo ID is universally used by all Americans of all backgrounds in many other aspects of our lives.

Since photo ID passed into law in Georgia in 2005, for example, minority participation in elections has actually increased. African-American turnout at the midterm elections rose 44.2 percent between 2006 and 2010. Voter participation in the midterm elections among Hispanics rose 66.5 percent during that same period.

What voter ID will do is help prevent fraud, especially as we go forward into a highly visible election season. In the past five years alone, there have been instances of election fraud in several states, including New York, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and South Carolina, where the mayor of Eastover was convicted of election fraud in 2008. It is not unheard of for dead citizens to cast ballots in a nation that is supposed to have elections with far more integrity than the rest of the world.

A new Rasmussen poll released in December shows that 70 percent of likely voters believe Americans should have to show a photo ID such as a driver’s license before voting. Our neighbors in Mexico show a photo ID when they vote. And in emerging democracies in the Middle East such as Iraq, citizens dip their fingers in ink to show they have voted.

In the 21st century in the United States, there should not be any question whether someone could vote without proving who they are. If America is the world’s most exceptional nation, then we need to run the globe’s most exceptional and secure elections.

Requiring photo ID is a step toward getting us there.

Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House and congressman from Georgia, is a Republican candidate for president.