2008 Election, and Michigan's Voter Identification Policy

I walked down to the polling place and cast ballot 309 in the City of Ypsilanti's Ward 1, Precinct 2 this morning around 10 am. While it was busy, the poll workers had things moving efficiently and I didn't have to wait to vote.

Much has been written elsewhere about Michigan's Voter Identification Law (MCL 168.523) and the State Supreme Court decision that upheld it. I won't talk about voter disenfranchisement or lack thereof, as others are much better at that than I am. What I would like to discuss is the information assurance aspects of it, and more specifically the ones I saw this morning.

The Michigan Secretary of State's Picture Identification in the Polls: Instructions to Election Officials covers the procedures local poll workers are supposed to take to carry out the identification requirements. What I experienced is this:

  • Poll worker asked for my ID, I provided my driver's license
  • Poll worker looked at me, compared the picture to my ID
  • Poll worker returned my ID, provided me with an application to vote
  • I filled out the application, supplied it to the next worker down, who highlighted my name in the list of eligable voters, initialled my application, and directed me to the next guy down.
  • Next guy down provided me with my ballot in a secrecy sleeve, slipped my application to vote in the clear plastic holder on the outside of the sleve, and directed me towards the privacy booths set up, where another worker pointed me at any of the handful of empty booths.
  • I executed the honored American tradition of filling in the bubble next to the least onerous person in the several offices open for election.
  • I stepped over to the poll worker next to the tabulating machine, who took my application to vote out of the plastic sleeve, tore the reciept off of the top of my ballot (whilst leaving the rest of it in the secrecy sleeve) and directed me to insert my ballot into the sleeve. That done and the sleeve returned to the stack next to the tabulating machine, I picked up my "I Voted" sticker and wandered off.

Now, the poll workers are a dedicated bunch of folks, who I have great respect for and who seem to be doing a good job in what is predicted to be one of the busiest voting days in history (and, if the State of Michigan didn't require you to list some sort of party affiliation to work as a poll worker, I would have volunteered — but that's a tirade for another day). But the ID requirement, as implmented at my polling place, seemed meaningless. At no point did anyone compare the name on my application to the name on my ID — they simply verified that I had a piece of plastic that looked like a State of Michigan Driver's License and that the picture on it looked like me. Then I got the application, which I filled out and presented to the next person, and at no following step was my ID checked. So there was nothing that tied my name as presented by my ID to me as I voted.

The option of filling out an affidavit for those without an ID also seems to, from an information assurance standpoint, make the whole ID process seem meaningless, since there is a way in the process to get by without any ID and the proported assurance that ID provides. I'm not a fan of the ID requirement by any means, and my understanding is that the affidavit portion is designed to get around any claim that the entire process constitutes a poll tax (since all of the accepted forms of ID require some sort of payment to aquire).

So, finally, what is the voter ID requirement designed to do, and one, is it a solution that actually solves the problem and two, is the problem an actual one? Those questions I leave for another day.