Attorneys from two prominent advocacy groups squared off in a debate centering on the validity of voter identification laws at the law school on Feb. 25.
“Voting is a right and not a privilege,” said Liz Kennedy, of counsel to Demos, a non-partisan group that advocates for an inclusive democracy and civic engagement. Kennedy argued that laws requiring voters to obtain and present photo identification prior to casting a ballot violate a constitutionally protected fundamental right.
There is also no legitimate justification for voter identification laws, Kennedy said, claiming that there are virtually no recorded incidents of voter fraud. To support this claim, Kennedy cited documents from a 2012 Pennsylvania case where the state specifically stipulated that it knew of no incidents of voter fraud.
Not only is there no legitimate purpose to voter identification laws, they are also very costly, she said. It would cost Pennsylvania an estimated $11 million to fully implement a voter identification program, Kennedy claimed. That money would be better spent on efforts to expand access to the polls rather than restrict it, she added.
Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow from the conservative Heritage Foundation, argued that voter identification laws not only have polling support but have been successfully implemented in states like Indiana and Georgia without any detriment to voter turnout. Courts have also repeatedly upheld the constitutionality of voter identification laws, with Georgia’s voter identification law upheld in state court, federal court and the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.
Von Spakovsky also claimed that requiring someone to produce identification before exercising a constitutional right is not uncommon. For example, identification is required to enter courts, obtain a marriage license and enter various federal buildings – all constitutionally protected rights. Requiring identification to vote is just a common sense approach to eliminating a myriad of issues that arise at election time, he concluded.
The law school's American Constitution Society and Federalist Society co-hosted the event.