One of this election cycle’s most controversial issues is voter ID laws. Depending on your point of view, these laws are either essential for a functioning democracy, or the modern-day equivalent of a “poll tax” designed to depress minority voter turnout. While I’m sympathetic to both points of view, neither captures the crux of the issue: A well-designed ID law — applied with ample guidance in communities where it could dampen turnout — can actually create a positive economic and civil benefit for exactly those voters about whom proponents are worried.
The first point to understand is how common these laws already are — both domestically and internationally. According to the National Conference of State Legislature, there are 30 states in which voters will be required to show some form of ID in the November elections (17 of these states require a photo ID). In some states, like Alabama, South Carolina, and Texas, voters who are unable to show ID at the polls are given a provisional ballot and can still vote.
What the U.S. lacks is any sort of standard ID law at the federal level. But beyond our borders, such ID laws are the norm rather than the exception. Canada, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, and the Netherlands (to name a few) all require ID at the polls. In Mexico, our neighbor to the south, all
residents need to have a photo ID issued by the Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE) in order to vote. In 2010, fully 70 percent of the voting age population had a photo ID issued by the IFE. (This ID is also used for transaction other than voting, acting as an official standard ID across the entire country.)