Pennsylvania’s Voter ID debate confounds those who exercise that most American of rights by pleasantly casting their votes in local high schools or libraries, waving first to a friend in the parking lot and perhaps inquiring about the children of one of the volunteers. So the law is about showing your ID before you vote? Proving who you are makes perfect sense—otherwise you’re asking for fraud, aren’t you? Let’s put aside the fact that getting people to vote once is trouble enough and getting them to vote in someone else’s place even tougher—not to mention that in doing this impersonation they’d still have a 50% chance of voting correctly! There’s very little evidence of voter fraud in this country and even less of an instance where fraud affected the outcome of a national election. Counting the votes properly? That’s been a problem—remember hanging chads? But the old “vote early and often” is a holdover from the 19th century, and it was mostly a memorable figment of paranoid imagination even then.
Even so, what’s the big deal about showing a little proof? If you, John Smith—or Junot Diaz—are going to vote, we’d like to know that you’re John or Junot. Who doesn’t have an ID? Turns out a lot of citizens don’t. For instance, only 80% of Americans in their early 20s have a driver’s license. (Used to be a lot higher.) And student IDs aren’t recognized. Statistics also point to low-income workers and the chronically underemployed as being less likely to have ID. The cost and rigmarole required to obtain government-issued photo ID is a factor, as is no doubt in some cases, sheer indolence—praised by John Keats but hardly a desirable characteristic in a citizen of a democracy. But should it stop him from voting? Studies show that more than ten percent of US citizens officially qualified to vote would be unable to show the required ID. That’s a lot of lazy people, if that’s what you think they are. Or a lot of people on the edges, the fringe, people who don’t book a lot of flights or have six credit cards. They are seniors, young adults—they come from every group the country has. It’s one out of every ten people. That’s a lot.