Published Friday, September 23, 2005, in New York Post

A PHOTO-FIX FOR VOTING

By John R. Lott, Jr. and Mario Villarreal

ON Monday, a bipartisan commission headed by former President Jimmy Carter and ex-Secretary of State James Baker surprised most observers and agreed that Americans should be required to have photo IDs to vote. In fact, though the American debate over this is vitriolic, photo IDs are commonly used to prevent voter fraud across the world.

Democrats often don't buy it. Howard Dean recently claimed that the Republican push for voter IDs is "a new Southern strategy and a new Jim Crow." Others have claimed that the requirement would victimize Hispanics, African-Americans and the poor. (Proponents answer that the IDs will actual prevent voters from being improperly challenged.)

Georgia and Indiana will soon become the first two states to require photo IDs for voting. Some 17 other states require non-photo IDs (e.g., Social Security cards, birth certificates or even utility bills) which are typically easy to forge with a computer and color printer. Most states (31) have no voter-ID requirement at all.

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil-rights movement, waxed apocalyptic over the recent Justice Department decision (required under the Voting Rights Act) to allow Georgia's photo-ID to go ahead: "This decision takes us back to the dark past of literacy tests and other insidious devices that were carefully devised to hamper the participation of all of our citizens in the political process."

Huh? Americans are overwhelmingly used to presenting a photo ID. You need it to start a bank account or cash a check, drive a car or board a plane even, if you look too young, to buy cigarettes or beer. Modern society relies on it.

The concern about Hispanics being discouraged from voting seems misplaced. Most notably, you have to show photo ID to vote in Mexico. And while Georgia allows voters to use any of six different types of photo IDs, Mexico inists on an official voter ID with a photo and a thumbprint.

In Georgia, if you can't come out to obtain an ID, the state will send someone to your home. In Mexico, voters must apply in person for the card and then pick it up in person months later.

Mexico introduced the IDs in 1991 to address the fraud complaints that had long plagued its elections. Since then, the government has been willing to spend big to prevent forgery, with nine different security features including: a hologram, special fluorescent ink, a bar code, and special codes in a magnetic strip. To fight fraud, Venezuela and Nicaragua have since adopted the same system, and many other Latin American countries have their own various ID systems.

Worldwide, many countries issue specific IDs for voting, though not all are photo IDs: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, the United Kingdom and South Africa, too. India and Pakistan may not agree on much, but they both issue voter IDs.

Former President Bill Clinton claims that voters IDs are part of "efforts to restrict access to the vote under the guise of preventing voter fraud." What? When did Republicans start plotting in league with South Africa and Mexico?

Why are voter IDs so common all over the world?

Not all the Democrats on the Carter-Baker commission endorsed the photo-ID plank, but only three of the panel's 21 members dissented. We can at least hope that this signals a change in the overheated rhetoric on a fundamental issue.

John Lott is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Mario Villarreal is an AEI doctoral fellow and a citizen of Mexico.

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