Dec 1, 2023

I changed my mind about voter ID laws.

I changed my mind about voter ID laws.
Photo by Phil Scroggs / Unsplash

The upsides probably outweigh the downsides.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

I voted in Philadelphia's elections a few weeks ago.

The process for voting was simple — the same way it usually is. I walked up, told someone my name and address, signed something, got a ballot, voted, and left. 

As someone who has done extensive writing and reporting on allegations of election fraud, I know how many things go into ensuring my vote is legitimate. I know there are people working behind the scenes to check that I live where I say I do, there is tech validating my signature to ensure it's really me, and there are simple realities that prevent voter fraud — like the fact the same person voting twice would set off all sorts of alarm bells (i.e., if someone tried to vote as me, and then I went to vote, I'd find out pretty quickly). I also know voter fraud is pretty rare and election fraud is even rarer, and that any instance of fraud actually impacting the outcome of an election is rarer still.

But I also know that trust in our elections is at an all-time low. And as I left the voting booth a few weeks ago, I have to say, it was easy to understand why. When you cast a ballot, it doesn't feel like there is a lot of security. And if you're someone who goes out to bars, travels, has ever applied for a credit card or bought medicine at a drugstore, you are probably struck by the fact that for all of those things you usually have to show a photo ID — but for voting, you don't.

If you asked me about this issue five or 10 years ago, I would have recited all the typical talking points about why voter ID laws are bad: They are discriminatory, they disenfranchise voters, they don't effectively prevent fraud, and tens of thousands of people in most states don't have a photo ID. Of course, one core claim from the opposition to voter ID laws is that many attempts at implementing voter ID laws are actually attempts to dilute the power of minority voters (who disproportionately don’t have photo IDs).

Some of the claims about implementing voter ID laws are true. It is true that attempts to implement voter ID laws have sometimes been driven by a desire to keep certain voters home. It is also true that studies have shown voter ID laws aren’t that great at preventing voter fraud, even though most voters think they are. Empirically, the best way to prevent fraud is to keep voter rolls up to date and to use paper ballots (as forty-two states already do), which make elections easy to audit.  

But some of the claims about voter ID laws aren’t true.