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Voter ID would ensure that our elections are fair

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J.B. Van Hollen
May 14, 2008

There is nothing more fundamental in our democracy than the right to vote. This primary tenet of political freedom, however, is undermined when people engage in unlawful voting or unqualified electors cast ballots illegally and undetected. The ballots cast by law-abiding citizens are diminished when fraudulent actors take advantage of Wisconsinís open election laws. Justifiably, public confidence in our elections plummets under the weight of this illegal activity.


After the 2004 general elections, Milwaukee media reported discrepancies in recorded and certified election results. The Milwaukee Police Department opened an investigation into this voter fraud in Milwaukee County. Recently, the police department issued its report and its findings are unsettling. Felons voted; fraudulent addresses were used to register; and double voting and deceased people casting ballots are reported in the investigationís results.


As I have long advocated, among the recommendations submitted by the special investigations unit to curb voter fraud is that voters present photo identification at polling places.


Since the 2000 election, many legislators have sought to restore Wisconsinís election integrity by introducing legislation requiring all voters to present photo ID at polling places.


Most recently, Sen. Joe Leibham and Rep. Jeff Stone have sought to pass a resolution that would allow voters to vote on a constitutional amendment requiring voter ID. Their carefully researched language would use a standardized state-issued photo ID that voters would be required to present at polling places. This allows clear visual confirmation of the person seeking to vote, lessens complications related to same-day voter registration and reaffirms our commitment to one person, one vote.


Opponents of this simple requirement to diminish voter fraud have been vocal. Many claim this simple ID requirement to participate in a citizenís most valued act is too burdensome, an effort to ďsuppress votesĒ and unconstitutional.


Just recently, the U.S. Supreme Court silenced these arguments.


In Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, a case brought in opposition to Indianaís voter ID law, the high court upheld the stateís ability to require identification. The court ruled that the law is constitutional because its overall burden is ďminimal and justifiedĒ and it serves a legitimate state interest in deterring and detecting fraud.


Under Wisconsinís current law, as the Milwaukee Police Departmentís investigation and report demonstrate, the opportunity is there for those seeking to commit voter fraud to do so. As the stateís chief law enforcement official, I can tell you that the current system frustrates authoritiesí ability to detect and prosecute these acts.


To be sure, laws should make voting easy. But laws should not make illegal voting easy. Voter identification is common sense. It will help to secure fair elections and allow us in law enforcement to protect the principles our democratic system is based upon. We have an obligation to ourselves as a democratic society to make certain our election system is fair and legal.


Voter identification is the first step in restoring integrity to Wisconsinís election system.


J.B. Van Hollen is Wisconsinís attorney general.

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