A picture may be worth a thousand words -- or least one vote. But that's only if the government adopts some important -- and popular -- election reforms recommended recently by a blue-ribbon panel. Americans showed overwhelming support for one of the panel's central proposals -- a voter-ID requirement -- in one of the first public polls on the subject.
Last month, a commission headed by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III issued a report making a series of recommendations aimed at improving the nation's election laws and procedures. The report notes that the Help America Vote Act, passed by Congress and signed by the President in 2002, "represents a significant step forward... but it falls short of fully modernizing our electoral system."
The report says the 2004 election showed "irregularities and fraud still occur" and points to "growing skepticism with our electoral system." The panel believes "confidence in the electoral system is critical for our nation's democracy." With that in mind, the panel says further improvements must be made and endorses several measures to "increase voter participation and to assure the integrity of the electoral system." One of the commission's central recommendations calls for all voters to show a standard photo ID, like a driver's license, as a condition to vote. The commission also argues states should provide identification cards to the 12 percent of eligible voters who do not have driver's licenses.
Some Democrats, as well as liberal interest groups and think tanks, immediately attacked this recommendation. Former Senate Majority Leader and commission member Tom Daschle called it a "modern-day poll tax." The Century Foundation said that the "identification requirements serve to disenfranchise many groups of voters." The American Civil Liberties Union said it would "disproportionately impact the poor and the elderly."
Of course, these allegations also seem to fly in the face of another provision in the report recommending states provide IDs free of charge to those who do not have one.
Moreover, despite this incendiary language, the photo ID idea is less combustible among rank-and-file voters. We tested the popularity of the idea in the most recent American Survey (800 registered voters, conducted Sept. 26 - Oct. 2) and found overwhelming support.
For example, asked if they favored or opposed "requiring voters to show photo identification at voting sites to help ensure the integrity of the voting system," 83 percent favored the idea, while only 15 percent opposed it. Support was also strong and consistent across party, gender and other demographic variables. And despite the vitriolic rhetoric from Mr. Daschle and others, 77 percent of self-identified Democrats said they liked the idea.
Some Democratic political leaders and liberal interest groups may rail against this commonsense reform. But polling indicates that creating grassroots opposition to this idea is a tough sell. Lawmakers considering enacting this provision should have confidence that it receives broad public support.