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Who doesn't have valid photo ID, anyway?

As noted in our editorial "The Wrong Kind," this year a dozen or so Republican-controlled state governments have discovered a reason to favor the expansion of government regulation: new laws requiring voters to present certain kinds of ID at the polls. The stated reason for these laws is to combat voter fraud -- a virtually nonexistent problem. That the regulations will suppress turnout among likely Democratic voters is the unstated reason. (Well, the usually unstated reason -- a few conservative supporters have been very upfront about their motives.)A popular response to complaints about these laws is the claim that they won't disenfranchise significant numbers of legitimate voters. After all, who doesn't have photo ID? "I challange anyone to find me one person who is legal and unable to vote," wrote one commenter on our editorial. "Where ARE these people? I read a lot and listen to a lot of talk radio, and I have yet to encounter anyone who is legal and can't vote. These people simply do not exist."A story by Sarah Hofius Hall in the Scranton Times-Tribune (my hometown paper) identifies one group of legal and (newly) unable to vote real people: retired Catholic sisters. A new law in Pennsylvania "requires anyone voting this November to produce a photo ID with an expiration date." And yes, people do lead fulfilling lives without such ID on hand, whether or not they come up much on talk radio. One IHM sister had to wait two hours at the DMV because "her non-driver's license photo ID, which she used for air travel, had long-expired" -- and therefore, suddenly, it wasn't enough to get her in to the polls in the lobby of the building where she lives. Other sisters, like many elderly people, are lacking the documentation they would need to get an ID.The sisters know that in some ways they are fortunate: unlike many elderly people, they live in a community that can advocate for them, drive them to the DMV, help them track down the necessary paperwork. So they're speaking up for others affected by the new law:

The congregation's peace and justice committee has sent a letter to Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson and the state's Supreme Court justices, asking them to overturn the law.The sisters represent "thousands and thousands of elder Pennsylvanians facing a similar exclusion from their lifelong participation in the democratic process. If the Voting Act of 2012 is maintained in the courts, the seniors will have a serious violation of their rights visited upon them. It must not be allowed to stand," the sisters wrote.

These sisters are just a few of the non-hypothetical people whose votes were valid in the last election and, unless the law is overturned, won't be valid this year. If there's a valid reason for turning them away from the polls -- aside from helping Gov. Romney win the state of Pennsylvania -- I haven't heard it yet.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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I grew up in South Dakota and worked many years there, before moving to sunny California. In order to vote in SD, one was required to stop by your country courthouse, and fill out the form to register to vote. And if you moved out of the county, in order to vote in your new county, you again had to stop by your new county courthouse and re-register, or drive back on election day and vote in your former county. No voter registration at the DMV or in the Walmart parking lot. And in order to acquire an absentee ballot, you had to demonstrate some actual reason why you could not vote on election day.I asked someone about this once and the answer was enlightening and quite reasonable. First, it is worth remembering that for about the first 100 year of this republic, if you did not own land, you could not vote. I guess they figured owning land meant you actually had a stake in the health of the nation.In any case, making it easier for people to vote mainly encourages people who have disorganized lives to participate in voting. People who have lives so disorganized that they cannot make it to their local county courthouse to register, and if they move to another county, cannot find time to change their registration to the new county, these people generally want or need someone to help them along in life. They consequently tend to vote for more and larger government programs and think that all sorts of government assistance is not only justifiable, but necessary. Consequently, these folks folks with disorganized live who need help - tend to vote Democrat; tend to vote for government handouts.Many soldiers fought and died to safeguard our way of life, among other things, our right to vote. While I am not a absolutist on this (I understand there are exceptions to the rule), I tend to think that if someone cannot handle registering at their local county courthouse, if they cannot find time to acquire a state-approved ID card, to meet the minimum requirements set out by their fellow citizens in order to conduct a reasonable/clean election, then they really are not paying close enough attention to the world around them and they should probably not be voting.

Ken, what about those that don't have a readily available support system and CAN'T get into town, except MAYBE to vote? If we strictly interpret your vision, then absolutely ZERO members of our military who are deployed should be allowed to vote. It usually doesn't have ANYTHING to with not having or finding the time to get into town to register. It's almost ALWAYS not being able to afford to.Also, what about those people that can't afford to buy a state-issued ID? Should we also call them lazy and worthless and not allow them to vote as well?By the way, these "minimum requirements" you speak about? They weren't put in place by "their fellow citizens". They were put in place by Republican legislators. There's a HUGE difference.Also, just so you know, back in 1988, I was on welfare with my then wife and kids. We both voted for the Sainted Ronnie of the Ray-Gun. Just to refresh your memory: He was a Republican. I voted for him in 84, also. My first election where I was able to vote.

So let me get this straight, Ken. You think that people who need government programs or think programs should be available to help others should be discouraged or even prevented from voting? You think that, for some reason, people who think like that should not be represented by government? Do you think that Lincoln, if he had more time, would have said "government of the people who don't need much from government, by the people who don't need much from government, for the people who don't need much from government, shall not perish from the earth"?

In response to a previous comment; my late friend's mother never had an ID and found it close to impossible to get one. Her husband was born in America, and she was brought here by her parents at age 6 months. She was a traditional, some would say old fashioned housewife. Everything was in her husband's name:bank accounts, property etc. She never drove as she never needed to and they never traveled so she had no passport. When he died, she was basically told that she did not exist! She raised 3, college educated children, two of whom served in Vietnam. Even with the help of these children, it took almost 2 years to get her an ID and to get her access to her late husband's bank accounts. Neither she nor any of her children were ever on welfare and she always took a serious interest in politics and always voted. (I can't say for whom as we never discussed it.) Things are rarely black and white.

Bob F. Fantastic comment. Well put!

Ken:"In any case, making it easier for people to vote mainly encourages people who have disorganized lives to participate in voting."I think that you are discriminating against me.

Ken, which article or amendment of the Constitution says that "disorganized" people are not allowed to vote?I've heard some highly organized people express such stupid and uninformed opinions that it makes me wish for an amendment requiring voters to have a minimum I.Q. score.

Whoa I figured there would be an outcry. I did not say anyone should not be allowed to vote. It is a simple fact that in order to have an organized and honest election, there needs to be a rational, methodical and reasonable process in place, and people if they want to participate in voting should be willing to participate in the entire process, which includes following the rules and meeting the requirements of their local government, requirements set out by their peers, their friends and neighbors, and the people in their state. Stopping by the local county courthouse is not an unreasonable burden; neither is obtaining proper identification.Gosh, if I want to buy something with plastic, the clerk routinely asks to see my identification. People also routinely are required to show ID when boarding a plane, even when buying tobacco or booze. If a kid tries to sneak into an R-rate movie, they will be asked for ID. If you want to have a bank account, to withdraw money, you need to show ID. I do not see the bill deal (the hardship) about showing ID to vote or simply complying with the local election processes.

@Ken (9/27, 11:12 am) Sorry to pile on, but I am curious: how did a post about elderly Catholic sisters---one of the subsets of Americans who have lived the most highly organized lives in our contemporary society---suddenly not being eligible to vote under Pennsylvania's new law lead you into a discourse about the failings of those who have disorganized lives?

@Ken (9/27, 12:49 pm) Just for the record, the story is about retired nuns who have voted all their lives suddenly being ineligible to vote *in the polling place in their retirement home*, not because they don't have ID, but because they don't have the (newly) proper ID.Also for the record, the Commonwealth stipulated in court that they had no evidence of any in-person voter fraud in any election held in the past decade. (In-person voter fraud being the specific type of voter fraud this new law ostensibly exists to prevent.)

Ken, the point of my post was to point out that it is not always a simple thing to get ID. It's not just about being bothered, finding the time etc. Red tape can prevent people from having ID too.

Hey Ken... It's Nuns On the Bus... not Nuns In the Caddies.. [see Ann Romney]

Ken..."Consequently, these folks folks with disorganized lives who need help tend to vote Democrat; tend to vote for government handouts."Very unfortunate generalization and stereotyping, Ken.

Ken --How can a man live so long and not understand that being very poor means having NO money even for some necessities. Not even bus fare to go to City Hall. Or if cab fare is necessary because your knees are literally too stiff to allow you to get into a bus.

Enough about "Ken'... no photo ID, no last name. , no vote for him... come back in 4 years.

Does anyone else here see the irony in arguing that we are required to show our ID to travel on an airplane which has nothing to do with the administration of our government, but we should not require any ID to vote, which is the basic building block of our government? Btw, I dont think we should have an ID requirement for either.One observationWith no ID requirements, its impossible to say whether voter fraud is an issue: there is no way to determine or measure the fraud or lack of it.

Re: SD voting...For whatever it's worth, South Dakota's absentee voting laws changed prior to the 2004 election. In the wake of Sen. Johnson's (D) narrow 2002 win over Thune thanks to late votes from Indian Country, SD got in early on the "vote fraud" panic and began requiring photo ID at the polls. (It was around this same time that our rabid partisans in Pierre made it law that should ever a Senator--perhaps...oh...Daschle?--run for POTUS he must forfeit his Senate seat, but I digress.) The silver lining of this cloud, however, is that at this same time, in exchange, SD loosened up on absentee voting. Now, for any reason, a voter can request an absentee ballot by mail (as long as he encloses a photocopy of his ID with the written request, or has his form impressed with the seal of a notary who has seen his ID) or may vote early in person at the County Auditor's office, on an absentee ballot which will be counted on election day. Absentee voting begins six weeks out from the election. I already voted at the courthouse a week ago, for no reason other than I like to vote. The only time a voter still needs an infirmity/immobility reason to receive an absentee ballot is if he wants it brought and returned personally by a courier. It's all very easy and well-publicized. Whatever lofty reasons Ken may have been given for the difficulty in absentee voting, have been moot for a decade now. But now we use them instead to buttress case for a photo ID requirement. I say this because no better reason was ever offered. One of the early arguments for why we needed photo ID was so the terrorists couldn't throw our SD elections. (They're all around us, you know, suicide bombing the grain elevators!) Then the reason was because there were a few cases of fraudulent voter *registrations*. Funny thing is, the last known case of systematic voter registration fraud was carried out by Thune's own nephew. Since no cases of fraudulent voting could be produced, before or since the change, I've got to believe the most logical explanation for our change in ID requirement--which was early on, recall, before this became a national GOP issue--was to prevent another 2002, i.e. minimize the voting power of Indian Country.

Bruce wrote, "With no ID requirements, its impossible to say whether voter fraud is an issue: there is no way to determine or measure the fraud or lack of it."What about the election board people who hand out ballots and cross names off the list at the polling place on election day? They live in the same precinct as the voter. If any one could smell a rat, wouldn't it be those old ladies?

Bruce and Ken [no last names] [ last names are required to vote and on plane rides]. Now they tell us why The GOP hired the group that has JUST been charged with voter regisration fraud. OK.. the GOP just fired them but they were known frauds when the GOP hired them.

I don't know if anyone is still reading this topic, but I assume dotCom readers have heard that the Pennsylvania law has been blocked by a judge. I believe the suspension is expected to stand through election day.

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