The Economic Implications of a Valid Voter ID

Photo via VoteRiders

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Voter turnouts at the 2018, 2020, and 2022 elections were at an all-time high. About 66% of eligible voters voted in the 2020 presidential election—the highest rate for a national election since 1900. However, across racial and ethnic groups, there continue to be alarming gaps in voter participation. In the 2020 presidential election, Asian American, Black, and Latino eligible voters comprised nearly 30% of those eligible to vote, yet represented a mere 22% of all votes cast. 

One of the greatest challenges in American politics is getting eligible citizens registered to vote. In every state, excluding North Dakota, individuals who plan to vote in federal elections must be registered first. However, 21.4% of eligible voters were not registered to vote as of 2014. 

In an effort to increase voter registration, the federal government passed the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which requires states to allow eligible citizens to register to vote when completing transactions at places such as their state motor vehicle and social service agencies. This has proven to be ineffective, as some states—like New York—have failed to enforce this law, and less than 20% of eligible citizens report that they have actually been offered the chance to register. 

Some of the other most commonly known barriers to voting include reduced polling hours, voters arriving at incorrect polling locations, insufficient language assistance, and voter identification issues. Voter ID heavily impacts chances to vote, especially among people of color, poor people, the young, and the elderly. More than 16 million Americans cannot confirm that they have a government-issued photo ID. 

Yet one of the most commonly overlooked barriers is the actual obtention of a valid photo ID. A recent Harvard study found that even when offered “free” state-issued photo ID cards to vote, expenses for documentation, travel, and the opportunity cost of waiting times typically range from about $75-175, and when factoring in legal fees, can cost as much as $1,500. Largely due to their lower incomes, this issue continues to disproportionately affect racial minorities

Clearly, the cause(s) for low voter participation extend beyond just class issues; it also persists as a matter of race. In a study conducted in 2019, every dataset displayed white people having a higher percentage of valid voter IDs than Black and Hispanic people, and all people of color are less likely to have a valid ID. A 2014 study by the Government Accountability Office found that strict photo identification laws reduce turnout by two to three percent, translating to tens of thousands of voters lost in a single state.

The U.S. lacks any sort of standard ID at the federal level, in contrast to dozens of other countries that have implemented one, such as Germany, France, Belgium, Greece, and Spain. In total, 36 states have enacted laws requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls. Voter registration varies so much because states have their own election policies and processes, which can either be a plus or a disadvantage, depending on where you live. 

These different processes across states can lead to confusion and disparities in access to voting, potentially disenfranchising eligible voters or allowing for exploitation by those seeking to undermine the democratic process. Implementing standard ID laws would streamline voter registration and verification processes, ensuring that every eligible citizen has equal access to participate in elections while safeguarding against fraudulent activity. By establishing a consistent framework for identification, we can remove barriers that may disproportionately affect certain groups, such as marginalized communities or individuals with limited access to documentation. 

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This article was edited by Margeaux Wenner and Hannah Pearce.