How much information should people have to give the government before they are allowed to vote?
That is the question at the heart of a Georgia case that is making its way through the federal court system.
Deborah and Theodore Schwier live in Social Circle, a small town 40 miles east of Atlanta, according to a Tuesday story by The Associated Press. After they registered to vote in the 2015 elections, Walton County officials tossed out their registrations because they had failed to provide their Social Security numbers.
They sued the county in federal court claiming the county’s requirement of their Social Security numbers violates the federal Privacy Act, but their suit was thrown out.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday, though, that the lower court must hold a trial on the matter.
We applaud the Schwiers’ courage in challenging the law, and hope the court will rule they don’t have to provide their Social Security numbers just to exercise the right that is the cornerstone of our government.
According to the AP story, Georgia’s secretary of state defended that state’s requirements by saying they are necessary to combat voter fraud.
There are bureaucratic reasons, perhaps, that make it easier to keep track of voters by using their Social Security numbers, but there is no reason states and localities cannot use alternate numbers for the same purpose.
In the age of the Internet, identity theft is an alarmingly real concern. With a person’s Social Security number, an inventive criminal can cause all sorts of mischief and misery.
In Louisiana, there is no requirement to submit Social Security numbers when registering to vote. Instead, one must prove only that he or she is a resident and is at least 18 years old. Most people can accomplish that with a drivers license or official state identification card, neither of which requires the user to submit a Social Security number.
Louisiana is able to track its voters so that when they register to vote in new parishes, they are stricken from the roles in their old parishes.
That is accomplished by communication between registrars of voters.
Although officials in Georgia seem comfortable with their current requirements, making people supply the most crucial and personal information just to vote is unnecessary and potentially dangerous.
We certainly don’t need yet another reason for potential voters to stay away from the polls, and states and municipalities should recognize that they can maintain the integrity of the voting process without such invasive personal questions.