Voter ID is next step for state elections

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Even very young Americans know they have a right to vote. Clever moms and dads let siblings cast votes on family trips. Saturday morning cartoons show us how democracy works. Class elections at school reinforce what Scooby Doo started.

Voting is a privilege so ingrained in us, that sometimes we don’t stop to say, “How could we make this better?”

Despite the advent of electronic voting machines — which many folks still gripe about — voting in Mississippi has followed the same procedure for decades.

And that procedure doesn’t include something everyone from Walmart to the video store now requires — ID.

It’s impossible to know how many folks have pretended to be someone else at the polls. The opposition to voter ID argues that there are few if any instances of fraud that an identification requirement would fix, but there’s no way to prove that.

A greater opposition, however, may be the fear that older black residents who remember the days of Jim Crow poll taxes and literacy tests may become alienated to the voting process if they have show ID.

More than 100,000 signatures cleared the way Monday for Mississippi voters to decide whether or not identification should be required at the polls.

The issue is now slated to be on a November 2011 ballot.

But both sides of the argument would be wise to acknowledge a few points first.

– No one likes change; we all know that. But change is a part of life.

– The goal should be to improve voter turnout.

– Other states have successfully implemented identification requirements; Mississippi can too.

The opposition to new voter ID requirements has solid points.

Though most of the world does carry photo ID in this day and age, we can’t assume that everyone has one.

If the addition of a photo ID requirement keeps one voter at home, the overall goal has not been met.

Instead, a photo ID requirement must come with a good system to provide free, quick, easy-to-obtain IDs to those who may need them.

The local circuit clerk’s office could likely issue such an ID. Time and money must be spent on educating the voting population about such a procedure.

The other alternative — one used in neighboring Alabama — would allow for identification without a photo. Utility bills, hunting licenses and Social Security cards would be acceptable.

Again, educating the public of these options would take time.

Is there a guarantee that every voter will feel comfortable with a new law requiring ID? No.

But every politician, every Mississippian, would have the chance to educate those around them.

The question we must force ourselves to answer isn’t “What will people think?” but is, “How could we make this better?”

Our American spirit thrives on innovation — even at the polls. And ensuring that our election process is fair is a must.

We want voting to be inclusive of all peoples, but we also want to know that if Joe Smith votes, he really, truly is Joe Smith.

Identification is the only answer to that question.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-455-3551 or julie.coooper@natchezdmeocrat.com.