03/30/2012 05:09 pm ET Updated May 30, 2012

Mandatory Voter ID Disenfranchises Poor, Students, Elderly

By Zach Smith

Requiring photo ID cards to vote seems logical. Obviously, we want citizens at the polls to be legal and not misrepresent themselves. And mandating a photo ID is the best way to do this, right?

Opponents of the need for voter IDs start off with a hard burden. People instantly gravitate to conventional wisdom, what "common sense" tells them. The problem is, as the saying goes, if common sense were so common, more people would have it.

Voter ID is the opposite of helpful. Significant segments of the population are disenfranchised. The only effect is to prevent people from voting, which is discrimination.

Voter fraud, particularly at the ballot box, simply doesn't exist in meaningful quantities. Thus, voter ID isn't only wrong and discriminatory, but also a waste of taxpayer dollars.

I've thrown a lot of invective at these initiatives already. You're probably thinking, "This guy supports illegal immigrants voting!" or, "What an idiot! He's obviously wrong about voter fraud."

Let's look at the facts.

According to Nebraskans for Civic Reform, voter impersonation -- what voter ID protects against -- is the most rare form of voter fraud nationwide. Both Sen. Charlie Janssen, who introduced the bill in Nebraska to require voter ID, and the Nebraska Deputy Secretary of State for Elections, Neal Erickson, testified that it's not a problem in Nebraska. But what about elsewhere?

Well, in New Mexico, Secretary of State Dianna Duran was elected in 2010 on a platform primarily consisting of targeting voter fraud. She said her state was in a "culture of corruption." She then referred to police more than 60,000 cases of voter fraud.

Duran was right. There was voter fraud in New Mexico: 19 cases of voter impersonation and 104 cases of illegal registration.

Those are big numbers, for those of you doing the back-of-the-sports-section math at home. Less than three-hundredths of a percent of 1 million New Mexico voters allegedly cast illegal ballots.

In short, voter impersonation isn't a problem in Nebraska. It isn't a problem in New Mexico. And it isn't a problem nationwide.

Moving on to illegal immigrants. One forgets that to vote at the polls, one must be registered in 49 states (but not in North Dakota). If you think back to your registration form, you might remember a small box near the top. I know it well, having had to complete several registration forms each time I moved during my four years in Lincoln. The box asks for either your Nebraska driver's license number, if you have one, or your Social Security Number.

Question: If you're an illegal immigrant, can you have a Social Security Number or Nebraska driver's license? Answer: No. The Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles helpfully points out that

"all individuals applying for any type of driver's license, permit or identification card must attest to the following statement(s): I am a citizen of the United States or I am a qualified alien under the federal Immigration and Nationality Act."

Seems pretty clear to me. Illegal immigrants don't have Social Security cards. They don't have driver's licenses. They can't register, and if they can't register, they can't vote.

Now, if they impersonated voters, that might change things. But we already know voter impersonation simply doesn't happen. Not "doesn't happen often" or "rarely" or "infrequently." Statistically speaking, it doesn't.

Let's return to the charges I levied above at voter ID. First, it disenfranchises specific segments of the population, these being the elderly, the poor, minorities and college students.

What's that, you say? College students? Yes. Janssen's bill in the Unicameral would require not only a valid driver's license, but a valid, current Nebraska driver's license. He later amended the bill to have a provision by which the state would mail acknowledgment of registration cards to individuals without licenses, which is better, but still a waste of taxpayer resources.

Think that through. Valid, current Nebraska driver's license. There are three issues.

First, current students (or anyone, really) would have to buy a new driver's license each time they moved. As a student, I can testify to the amount of times I've moved -- even switching dorm rooms causes a change in registration.

Second, Nebraska. I love this state. I'm registered to vote here, and I've voted in every Nebraska election for which I've been eligible and in the country. But my permanent residence is in Wisconsin with my parents. I would no longer be allowed to vote in Nebraska, the only state in which I've ever voted.

Third -- and this gets to the heart of the matter -- a driver's license or state ID card valid for five years in Nebraska costs $26.50. That, my friends, is money you must pay the government in order to vote. That, my friends, is a poll tax.

Voter ID discriminates against groups of people, as plainly seen with students. It's also the case with minorities and the poor, who are less likely to have a photo ID. Poor people have a Social Security card, which they can use for employment and to register to vote. They don't necessarily need a driver's license, especially in areas with good public transportation.

Rural voters are also affected. Many voters in rural areas don't have access to the Internet, and thus can't request a free ID if it's offered. There's a reason President Obama called for covering 98 percent of Americans with wireless broadband Internet access.

Lastly, the elderly, who are less likely to drive regularly, are significantly disenfranchised by the institution of voter ID. Elderly people, by and large, are retired, plain and simple. They don't work. They use a Social Security card to get Social Security benefits. And they may not be in driving distance of a regularly open DMV, particularly in rural areas.

So, let's recap: a voter ID requirement disenfranchises voters. It's discriminatory against groups of people, and it's a waste of taxpayer dollars, as voter fraud simply doesn't occur.

Voter ID is wrong. Nebraskans should be glad Janssen's bill didn't pass this year. Because if there's one thing we want, it's all Americans having equal, free, unfettered access to the ballot box.

Zach Smith is a senior music and political science major. Follow him on Twitter at @smithzach and reach him at