Bookbyte Blog

McLovin's ID from "Superbad"

Quick quiz: How many forms of ID do you have?

Modified question: How many forms of ID do you have on you right now?

Once we exclude the passports, Social Security cards, birth certificates, and all those other documents that you usually just cram into that single, unsorted drawer of important papers that you never open, most of us only carry around a single form of ID.

For people who drive, it’s their driver’s licenses. For college students, it’s typically their student IDs, which most colleges demand that you carry at all times.

But that’s based on my experience. I grew up in Virginian suburbs where it’s impossible to get around without a car. What about college-age people who grew up in cities, where public transportation makes learning to drive mostly pointless? What about people who’re from a socio-economic background where getting a car while in their late-teens and early-twenties is impossible? Other than proving you’re old enough to buy cigarettes and alcohol, what’s the point in getting an ID?

A number of states — specifically Kansas, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin — are in the middle of legislative debates over what should be considered an acceptable form of ID. The anti-student ID group feels that non-government issued documentation is too easy to fake, so allowing student IDs is just an invitation to voter fraud. The pro-student ID group feels banning student IDs is going to disenfranchise young voters, particularly lower-income young voters who aren’t rushing out to get driver’s licenses as soon as they are of age.

There’s a lot that could be said about political motivations. Since the young and lower-income demographic tends to lean left, the Left is naturally the side complaining about disenfranchisement.  And just as predictably, the Right is the side claiming that this is really about preventing fraud. But nobody can have a reasonable debate when you just start throwing out accusations of motivation, so let’s throw that discussion out entirely.

Does voter fraud happen? Sure. But virtually never with people showing up at polls claiming they’re someone they aren’t. South Carolina’s State Election Commission ran a study of 900 suspicious votes credited to dead people. They only made it through 207 of the votes before they decided the study wasn’t worth continuing. 106 were clerical errors. 56 were people who weren’t, as it turned out, actually dead. 32 were caused by stray marks picked up by scanners. And 3 were absentee ballots cast by people who died before election day.

I can understand how jarring it seems requiring government-issued ID for college students to buy beer but not to vote. But take into account the absurd lengths college students will go in pursuit of beer. If only college students were that passionate about voting…

I am sympathetic to the idea of tightening up restrictions on voter ID… at least I can see where it’s coming from, but I think it’s ultimately overstating a problem. If voter fraud is an issue, banning student IDs is the equivalent of “duck and cover” to protect yourself from a nuclear blast. It’s not going to stop the problem, even if it makes you feel better. If someone is going to commit voter fraud, it’s going to be electronically. That’s a much more efficient means of screwing things up than spending all day waiting in polling lines with fraudulent IDs.

I can sympathize with the logic, even if I think it’s flawed, of the legislators in Kansas, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. Florida, on the other hand, gets no such sympathy. Between the recent vote purge (comparing voting lists with DMV info and eliminating 100,000 people’s votes) and recent legislation against third-party voter registration groups, I have a lot of trouble giving that state the benefit of the doubt. That’s not just “duck and cover.” That’s blowing up the desk before the nuke gets the chance.

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