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Editorial: Voter ID debate hinges on cost, effectiveness

Sep. 29, 2012 @ 09:55 PM

More than 30 states have enacted or considered legislation to require their citizens to produce more proof of identity when they go to the polls to vote.

In 17 states, the legislation involves photo IDs. Other states such as Ohio and Kentucky require forms of ID, but not necessarily photos.

So, it's no surprise that the topic has come up during this year's campaigns in West Virginia, which is no stranger to election corruption.

At first blush, a stronger identification system might seem to be a reasonable precaution. But as the issue has swept across the country, research has raised questions about both the need for and the expense of requiring photo IDs.

First of all, a photo ID is designed to prevent someone from coming to the polls pretending to be someone they are not. Is that really a big problem?

A study by the Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project says no.

That analysis looked at 2,068 reported election cases since 2000 and only uncovered 10 cases that involved someone going to the polls and allegedly impersonating some one else. The Washington Post calculated that equates to one for every 15 million prospective voters.

The more frequent problems ranged from registration fraud and absentee ballot fraud to vote buying and false election counts.

Certainly, if you look at recent convictions in West Virginia, tampering by elected officials is the more common story. A recent high-profile case in Lincoln County involved officials manipulating absentee ballots in a 2010 primary election, and convictions there in 2006 were about vote buying. Neither case involved people impersonating voters.

Even registration fraud may be less prevalent than some think. In Colorado, for example, Secretary of State Scott Gessler had estimated 11,805 noncitizens were on the rolls, but so far he has only confirmed 141 cases and only 35 of those had actually voted, according to The Associated Press. In Florida, an estimate of 180,000 noncitizens dwindled down to 207 under further review.

Still, small numbers can swing an election, and a more rigorous process is a comforting thought. But then there is the question of who pays.

The "Real ID" national identification program has shown us this year this can often be the "blind spot" in this type of legislation. Residents in West Virginia, particularly women, sometimes have to spend $50 to $100 to acquire the supporting documentation for a driver's license.

Should West Virginia lawmakers decide to add requirements or IDs for voters, they need go to school on the findings in other states and make sure the process is free to the public.



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