Photo Identification Law Needed to Combat Voter Fraud

By State Rep. John Ragan and Secretary of State Tre Hargett

It’s the most basic principle of our democracy:

When you step into a voting booth to cast your ballot, you should feel confident that your vote counts exactly the same as that of every other eligible voter participating in the election.

But suppose someone wanted to cheat the system by casting multiple ballots in the names of voters who were deceased or had moved away. Your vote – the most precious right this country offers you – would be cancelled out by voter fraud.

A team of investigators from Project Veritas recently demonstrated how easy it can be to conduct that type of fraud, which is known as voter impersonation. In the recent New Hampshire primary, Project Veritas’ team scanned the obituaries and then went to various precincts around the state, asking for ballots in the names of dead voters. Over and over again, precinct workers agreed to let the imposters vote without question. (The Project Veritas team members didn’t actually cast ballots, it should be noted, but filmed their encounters with hidden video cameras.)

Thankfully, because of a new law passed by the Tennessee General Assembly that took effect this year, it’s much less likely than ever before that something like that could happen here.

This law requires voters to show photo identification before they cast their ballots. That caused no significant problems during the March 6 presidential primaries in Tennessee.

For most people, the law is just pure common sense. When we board airplanes, cash checks or perform numerous other everyday activities, we are asked for photo IDs to prove we are who we say we are. Why should something as important as voting be held to any less of a standard?

Photo ID laws are extremely popular, in Tennessee and across the country. A recent poll by Middle Tennessee State University found that 82 percent of Tennesseans support the photo ID law, while only 11 percent are opposed. Those numbers are consistent with other national polls we’ve seen.

In neighboring Mississippi, citizens recently voted by a large margin to make a photo ID requirement for voting part of the state’s constitution.

Of course, like almost anything else, photo ID laws do have their critics. They suggest the laws are unnecessary and create barriers that prevent certain groups of people from voting. They’re wrong on both counts.

Critics suggest that voter impersonation isn’t a serious problem because there have been relatively few reported cases in which violators have been caught and prosecuted. That’s a Catch-22, since without a photo ID requirement, it’s difficult to say with any certainty how often that type of fraud has occurred in the past.

To follow the critics’ logic, if police stopped patrolling our roads and therefore no speeding tickets were issued, that would mean speeding was no longer a problem. That’s ludicrous.

And just how much fraud are the critics willing to tolerate, anyway? A few fraudulent votes might be enough to swing a close election. Would the critics rather live with that possibility than take a sensible step to prevent it?

Their claims that people would be unfairly denied opportunities to vote under the new law are also hollow.

The law provides a number of exceptions for people who vote absentee or from hospitals, nursing homes or assisted living facilities. People who have religious objections to being photographed or can’t afford costs associated with obtaining photo IDs can sign affidavits and still cast ballots.

People who show up at the polls without photo IDs can cast provisional ballots, then return to their local election commission headquarters within two business days with proper identification and have their ballots counted.

An interesting fact – and one that’s frequently overlooked or glossed over by the media – is that legal challenges against photo ID laws have failed in Georgia and Indiana in part because the plaintiffs in the lawsuits weren’t able to find a single person who had actually been denied the right to vote. That’s right – not one person in either state. Our law is similar to those laws, so we expect that it should be able to withstand any legal challenges that might arise.

Of course, the critics – aided by the media – have been ferocious and overheated in their rhetoric. They’ve made this simple requirement sound like it’s going to bring about the end of the world as we know it.

You know differently and the members of the General Assembly who voted for the new law know differently. Protecting the integrity of our elections is too important to be derailed by a small percentage of malcontents.

 As most of you know, in the last election there was an exact tie for the juvenile judge position in Anderson County.  One improperly cast ballot would have changed that election's outcome.  Who knows?  Maybe it did...  Without a photo ID check, who can say for sure?  For those who claim that there isn't "that much voter fraud," in this race, even one would have too much!

I recently had the unpleasant duty of meeting a fallen Marine's body at McGhee Tyson Airport.  In another situation, I helped present a medal to the family of an US Army Sergeant killed in Afghanistan.  Tell the loved ones of these fallen heroes that their votes can be negated by someone who wants to cast a ballot without proving that they are who they say they are.  Go ahead, tell them it is ok for a little fraud because it is too inconvenient for some voters to bother with getting or showing a photo ID.

I don't think that the argument of too much inconvenience to get a photo ID carries much weight compared to the sacrifice these men and their loved ones have put on the altar of Liberty.  Rather, we owe a debt of honor to these who have given the last full measure of devotion.  That debt can never be fully repaid.  Nonetheless, a good start on it is to guarantee that the sacred integrity of the American ballot box is ensured through the best means we have.

Rep. John Ragan represents part of Anderson County in the Tennessee House of Representatives and Tre Hargett is the Secretary of State.

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