Posted on June 9, 2021

America the Outlier: Voter Photo IDs Are the Rule in Europe and Elsewhere

John R. Lott, RealClearInvestigations, June 1, 2021

Democrats and much of the media are pushing to make permanent the extraordinary, pandemic-driven measures to relax voting rules during the 2020 elections – warning anew of racist voter “suppression” otherwise. Yet democracies in Europe and elsewhere tell a different story – of the benefits of stricter voter ID requirements after hard lessons learned.

A database on voting rules worldwide compiled by the Crime Prevention Research Center, which I run, shows that election integrity measures are widely accepted globally, and have often been adopted by countries after they’ve experienced fraud under looser voting regimes.

Of 47 nations surveyed in Europe — a place where, on other matters, American progressives often look to with envy — all but one country requires a government-issued photo voter ID to vote. The exception is the U.K., and even there voter IDs are mandatory in Northern Ireland for all elections and in parts of England for local elections. Moreover, Boris Johnson’s government recently introduced legislation to have the rest of the country follow suit.


Seventy-four percent of European countries entirely ban absentee voting for citizens who reside domestically. Another 6% limit it to those hospitalized or in the military, and they require third-party verification and a photo voter ID. Another 15% require a photo ID for absentee voting.

Similarly, government-issued photo IDs are required to vote by 33 nations in the 37-member Organistion for Economic Co-operation and Development (which has considerable European overlap). {snip}


In some countries, even driver’s licenses aren’t considered authoritative enough forms of voter identity verification. The Czech Republic and Russia require passports or military-issued IDs and others use national identity cards. Others go even further: Colombia and Mexico each require a biometric ID to cast a ballot.

Many countries in Europe and beyond have learned the hard way that fraud can result from looser voting regimes — and they have instituted stricter voting measures in direct response to it.

In Northern Ireland, where a bitter sectarian conflict extends to hardball electoral machinations, voter fraud has been described as “widespread and systemic” on all sides. Both Conservative and Labour governments instituted reforms to quell it. In 1985, the U.K. started requiring identification before ballots could be issued. This proved insufficient. A 1998 Select Committee on Northern Ireland report found that medical cards used as IDs after the 1985 law could be “easily forged or applied for fraudulently,” thus allowing non-existent people to vote. By 2002, the Labour government made voter identification cards much more difficult to forge, and used the more secure ID and other rules to prevent people from registering to vote multiple times. These anti-fraud provisions led to an immediate 11% reduction in total registrations — a suggestion to Labour of the extent of earlier fraud.


On the mainland, France banned mail-in voting in 1975 because of massive fraud in the island region of Corsica, where postal ballots were stolen or bought and others were cast in the names of dead people.


When there are no tamper-resistant photo IDs, fraud is difficult to prove. If hundreds or thousands of people vote at a polling place, how do you verify if someone voted by pretending to be someone else? Criminal convictions tend to occur only when people try voting in the same polling station multiple times instead of visiting multiple stations. But, with poll workers often working different shifts, even the same polling station can be compromised.


American progressives might take heed of a Mexican election stolen from voters on the left in part due to lax voting requirements facilitating fraud. The 1988 loss of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, the leading leftist presidential candidate, to Carlos Salinas de Gortari of the long-governing Institutional Revolutionary Party has long been considered a result of electoral chicanery, later even acknowledged by the president at the time, Miguel de la Madrid.

And as a result of that fraud, Mexico in 1991 mandated voter photo IDs with biometric information, banned absentee ballots, and required in-person voter registration. Despite making registration much more difficult and banning absentee ballots, voter participation rates rose after Mexico implemented the new rules. In the three presidential elections following the 1991 reforms, an average of 68% of the eligible citizens voted, compared with only 59% in the three elections prior to the rule changes. Seemingly, as people gained faith in the electoral process, they became more likely to vote. Ultimately, in 2006 Mexico would revert to permitting absentee voting, but limited it to those living abroad who requested a ballot at least six months in advance. Claims of voting irregularities have occasionally arisen in later years, but they focus on vote buying, not impersonating others, or having non-existent people voting.

Despite the record of Europe and the vast majority of the rest of the developed world, congressional Democrats are pushing to remove identification requirements for voting. The House recently passed the For the People Act of 2021, which replaces state voter ID rules with a signed statement from the voter, and makes permanent the pandemic’s mail-in ballot voting. The mailing out of blank absentee ballots en masse would become a fixture of American elections. {snip}