Papers Please - Mexican Style

  Voter ID cards, a solution in search of a problem.

In the USA mostly Republicans are demanding that laws be passed requiring voters to have a government issued photo ID.

They say it is to prevent voter fraud.

Many articles have said that the real reason for voter ID cards is to prevent Democrats and poor people from voting.

A number of other articles have pointed out that when compared to the number of people that vote, the number of documented cases of voter fraud are almost next to nothing. Which means the voter ID cards and laws, are most likely a solution in search of a problem.


Mexico's national voter IDs part of culture

By David Agren, Special for USA TODAY

MEXICO CITY – Office worker Ana Martínez lined up at 7 a.m. on a recent Sunday to renew her voter credential, a document required at a polling station to vote.

But voting was not the main reason she was getting it. The free photo ID issued by the Federal Electoral Institute had become the accepted way to prove one's identity — and is a one-card way to open a bank account, board an airplane and buy beer. [since when did they have a drinking age in Mexico???]

Voting was almost an afterthought to Martínez.

"They ask for it everywhere," she said. "It's very difficult to live without it."

National IDs for voting, or proving citizenship, is an idea that is being floated in the United States to crack down on voter fraud, illegal immigration and foreign terrorists. [Just because Mexico has a police state ID, doesn't mean we should export it tot he USA!]

Proponents, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, say it is an efficient way to verify identities and prevent crime. Opponents, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, describe it as an invasion of privacy. Minority advocacy groups have even alleged that the cards would frighten minorities going to the polls.

But Mexico has not seen many problems with its card, and national identity cards have been issued for years in France, Poland, Singapore, Brazil, to prove citizenship. [Do you think a police state would admit to having problems with their police state ID system?]

Mexican officials unveiled the voting ID two decades ago to properly identify electors in a country with a history of voters casting multiple ballots and curious vote counts resulting in charges of fraud — most notoriously in 1988 when a computer crash wiped out early results favoring the opposition.

The credential proved so good at guaranteeing the identification of electors that it became the country's preferred credential, one now possessed by just about every adult Mexican. Its widespread acceptance deepened democracy, too, by giving credibility to the Federal Electoral Institute, analysts say. The agency was created as an independent agency to oversee federal elections.

"It's a very important prop for support of that institution," said Federico Estévez, political science professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. "What people really know about (the electoral institute) is the card."

The card must be renewed every 10 years. This meant thousands of Mexicans whose cards were expiring had to apply for a new one prior to Jan. 15 if they wanted to vote in the July 1 presidential election, prompting long lines outside agency service centers.

People in the lines were clutching folders of documents needed for renewal: a birth certificate, another form of photo identification and a recent utility bill.

Unlike Mexico, whose voting rules are set by the federal government, the United States leaves many voting requirements up to individual states. [So a National Voter ID would probably be unconstitutional]

Minority groups say the requirements could diminish voter turnout and negatively impact the elderly, students and African-American and Latino voters who are less likely to have the required identification.

"The complaint is basically the requiring (of a photo identification) that not everybody has and creating an extra burden and cost to get that," said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's law school.

Some U.S. states, including Texas and South Carolina, approved laws last year requiring voters to show a government photo identification prior to voting. The U.S. Justice Department rejected the law, saying it discriminates against minorities.

South Carolina's attorney general's office said there is no evidence that has ever happened in other states that require voter IDs. Citing the cards' necessity to safeguard the integrity of elections, the state argued in a lawsuit against Justice that of an estimated 239,233 registered voters with no appropriate photo ID, 37,000 were deceased and 91,000 no longer lived in South Carolina.

The debate also has national security implications. Improved identifications were recommended by the 9/11 Commission given that the hijackers had driver's licenses or state non-driver's identification cards that they used to rent apartments, open bank accounts and board planes. Social Security numbers are often used as proof of eligibility to work, but illegal immigrants often use stolen numbers.

Carries tough rules

Mexico's voter ID has some key elements that make them acceptable to the public, say officials here. They cost nothing to obtain and the issuing agency operates hundreds of service centers nationwide, making requests relatively easy.

Though some U.S. states allow people to vote without IDs, Mexico makes no exceptions for individuals lacking the proper documents. The Federal Electoral Institute also refused to extend the registration period or grant an amnesty for those applying late, leaving more than a million people ineligible to vote.

"It is a matter that has to do with a culture of respect for the law," Francisco Guerrero, one of the nine commissioners on the institute, told the newspaper Reforma.

The agency makes no apologies for the tough rules or requiring photo identifications, given Mexico's history of troubled elections. "We started from such a point of distrust, especially in the electoral system," institute commissioner María Marván said.

"In order to strengthen democracy, we have to start believing in our own institutions. That's a big challenge in Mexico."

The card does not guarantee fraud-free elctions, however. During 71 years of uninterrupted Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) rule, which ended in 2000, electoral crooks known as Mapaches, or raccoons, went about stuffing and stealing ballot boxes. Stories also abound of PRI operatives plying poor voters with sandwiches and soft drinks and then escorting the recently fed to the polling stations.

"They asked for identification or they didn't and you voted as many times as you were told," said Jeffrey Weldon, director of the political science program at Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico.

Although the national photo ID was introduced to stop voter fraud, it has achieved much more, bolstering the credibility of elections and helping the poor, some say.

The IDs resolved a problem for many poor people "who previously had no way of being able to identify themselves," said Miguel Ángel Carlos, security committee coordinator at the Association of Mexican Banks.

There is one thing the cards do not do: inspire more confidence in candidates. Ana Martínez says that despite getting her new card, she probably won't use it to vote. "There's no candidate worth voting for."


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