The argument appeared settled in Ohio. Republicans in charge of the state legislature looked at imposing a requirement that voters show photo identification at the polls. They passed on the idea, helped along in their thinking by a fellow Republican, Jon Husted, the secretary of state. He argued, correctly, that the state already had sufficient identification requirements, and that it had other, more pressing problems to address in conducting elections.
Now the Ohio Christian Alliance is attempting to revive the question. It would like state lawmakers to approve legislation setting up a photo identification requirement, Ohio joining 10 other states with such a law. And if lawmakers do not act? The alliance has pledged to mount a petition drive to place the initiative on the ballot in 2015.
The alliance contends that the identification requirement is necessary because voter fraud is a “growing problem.” It argues that early voting, even after the recent narrowing by lawmakers, leaves the state vulnerable. It points to surveys showing that Ohioans strongly support photo identification at the polls.
The trouble is, if the alliance is right about the survey of Ohioans, it greatly exaggerates the problem of voter fraud. Put another way, there is no problem.
Consider what the secretary of state found in assessing the 2012 election: Of 5.63 million votes cast across the state, just 135 involved indications of voter fraud. That amounts to 0.002397 percent of the vote. Many of the instances stemmed from voter confusion. Few, if any, hinted at something nefarious.
As Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune recently argued on the Commentary page, photo identification requirements actually create significant problems. He noted that as simple as it may seem to obtain such identification, many people are not in position to do so. A court case in Wisconsin revealed that roughly 300,000 eligible voters do not have the documents necessary to gain photo identification for voting.
Chapman cited several other items that can be obtained without photo identification, including Social Security, food stamps and a bank account. He added that even the Transportation Security Administration allows someone to board a plane if they can show other identification verifying that they are the person on the ticket.
Many of those without the paperwork to obtain photo identification are the poor and minorities, or those more likely to vote for Democratic candidates. Which explains the fierce and understandable opposition to the concept. The proposed requirement appears designed to gain a partisan advantage — not protect the vote.
As it is, Ohio has done well with the requirements it currently has. All voters must register with the local board of elections. At the polls, they can show photo identification, or other documents, such as a utility bill, confirming their identity. Better for the state to focus on the real problems with its elections, taking such steps as implementing electronic voter registration, bringing greater accuracy and efficiency to the system. Thus, the pursuit of the Ohio Christian Alliance rates as both harmful and a waste of time.