Voter ID Cards

Kip Esquire, who I enjoy reading, writes:

The voter ID proposal, already causing a stir in Georgia, is a reasonable compromise. ID cards help deter voter fraud, yet if the cards are free, then the “poll tax” histrionics evaporate (see, e.g., my previous post).

I agree that some histrionics may go away, but the real issue is: Would voter ID cards make our elections more “secure” at a reasonable cost? By secure, I mean reliable, trusted, and in line with people’s expectations for them. (And by trusted, I mean trusted, not the Byzantine set of twisted meanings security academics assign to it.) Lets take at the attacks, and how ID cards help deal with each.

  • The first attack is those who are not entitled to vote casting votes. This is what most people seem to think of.
  • The second attack is people casting more votes than they are entitled to cast in a given election.

I should also mention that voting turns out to be incredibly complex from a security standpoint: You have to cover attacks at different phases: Registration, voting, counting, and attacks by anyone and everyone involved in the system.

So will mandatory ID checks prevent those not entitled to vote from voting? I don’t believe that they will. The way extra “voters” get into the system tends to be registration fraud, not voting fraud. That is, I register to vote ten times, then vote ten times. I believe that if I can select name, social security number, birthday tuples that pass the database check, then I can also get voter ID cards that will allow me to vote under that name.

To the problem of people casting extra votes, I believe that the purple ink solution is the right one. This would allow one person to fraudulently vote (at most) once.

So let me turn my attention to the costs of ID cards:

  • Mandatory ID cards will be another reason to challenge voters at some stations. We’ll see some cards subject to extreme scrutiny, and others waved through. We saw this in 2004, with exceptionally long lines at some polling stations.
  • Will this be yet another card-and-database you have to update when you move? Yes, that’s an avenue of fraud, and yes, it happens to lots of innocent people whose right to vote will be infringed. Is the trade-off worthwhile?
  • Yet another reason for ID cards to be everywhere, driving down the cost of obtaining fraudulent ID. (See my “Identity and Economics: Terrorism and Privacy” talk for details.)
  • Yet another database full of social security numbers. Yes, it will be, to “address” multiple-registration problems. And to make the ID thieves happy.
  • More DBT-style “cleansing” of voting lists.

A much bigger problem (which Samablog reminded me of) is absentee ballots. Also on this subject, Bruce Schneier points to a New York Times editorial (also mentioned by Kip), and EPIC’s comments. EPIC raises good, additional privacy points, as to the interaction of the ID card requirement with the secret ballot. That if I show (machine-readable) ID, and both the verifier machine and the ballot machine track the order of votes, do I have a secret ballot anymore?

4 thoughts on “Voter ID Cards

  1. voter id cards won’t deter voter fraud any more than driver’s licenses prove that one is legally entitled to drive. There seems to be a belief in some circles in a sort of magic that is performed by a so-called legal document. All the high jackers on 9-11 had so called valid ID. So what?
    The Republicans will still find a way to prevent blacks and the poor from voting, while making it possible for Hispanics who don’t speak English to vote–all in the name of the Republican majority.
    History has shown that the so-called ID Cards area always abused by those in power. In Europe, they used to write “Jew” on them, or “Gypsy.” What do you suppose they will write here? Christian? White?

  2. I agree that “voter impersonation” is not really an issue and that voter ID would not be required if we had a reliable voter registration system. But the people who today oppose voter ID tend to be the same people who advocated for the lax voter registration rules over the years that today give rise to fraudulent voting.
    Bottom line: People are too quick to forget that it’s not “make every vote count,” but rather “make every valid vote count.”

  3. The Republicans will still find a way to prevent blacks and the poor from voting, while making it possible for Hispanics who don’t speak English to vote–all in the name of the Republican majority.

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