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IOP Hosts Voter ID Debate

By Samuel Y. Weinstock, Crimson Staff Writer

The merits and faults of laws which will require voters in several states to present photo IDs at the polls in November were discussed in a lively debate between four experts at the Institute of Politics.

The panelists at the Thursday evening event were Jennie Bowser, senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures; John H. Fund, senior editor of The American Spectator; Harvard Kennedy School professor Alex Keyssar ’69; and Tova A. Wang, fellow at Demos and The Century Foundation.

IOP Director C. M. “Trey” Grayson ’94, who moderated the event, kicked off the discussion by remarking that the issue at hand was particularly tied to the approaching 2012 presidential election. “Back in the 2000 election, we wouldn’t be having this type of discussion,” he said.

Bowser agreed, remarking that this election cycle has already seen an unusually high “politicization of elections in state legislatures,” which pass voter ID laws in the hopes of deterring groups of voters unlikely to pick their preferred candidates, in her view.

Wang said that voter ID laws could disenfranchise voters, particularly the poor, elderly, and minorities, who are less likely to have identification. All those groups commonly vote for Democrats.“

The partisan divide couldn’t possibly be starker,” Bowser said.

Panelists disagreed about whether voter fraud is a serious issue. Wang said that voter impersonation fraud is “virtually nonexistent,” and that measures like ID requirements to combat it were unnecessary.

“Voting is a right, not a privilege,” Wang said. “You have politicians choosing the electorate rather than the electorate choosing the politicians.”

Fund, on the other hand, gave several examples of what he considered serious incidents of voter fraud. He said that in some states, for example, fraudulent voters have cast ballots under the names of deceased people.“

I respect the dead,” Fund said. “But I do not believe in representation without respiration.”

On a couple occasions, Wang and Fund raised their voices and interrupted each other when their disagreement became especially vehement.“

John [Fund] has an amazing way of making things seem reasonable,” Wang said.“

Because they are,” Fund replied.“

Because they’re not,” Wang said, to applause.

Despite ideological differences, panel members agreed that the voting system could use significant improvement.

IOP Forum Committee Chairman Ibrahim A. Khan ’14 said the event was the first in a series of four discussions on controversial political topics to be held before Election Day. Khan said that the dispute over voter ID laws first caught the Forum organizers’ attention when it came up during the Black Policy Conference at the Kennedy School last spring.“

We figured it’s probably a good idea to go into the idea more,” Khan said.

Zachary D. Herring ’13, who attended the event and asked a question of the panel members, also said that despite the tension, he thought the debate was productive.

—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at sweinstock@college.harvard.edu.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: Sept. 14

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of IOP Forum Committee Chairman Ibrahim A. Khan ’14.

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Tags
IOPPoliticsState Politics2012 Election