We need to provide photo ID when we open a bank account, when we apply for a passport or a driver's license, when we buy alcohol, and any of countless other everyday interactions. It's not that big an imposition for these things, and we all recognize why it's necessary there. So why is it unreasonable to expect voters to provide documents proving who they are before they can vote?
Sure, that sounds eminently reasonable. Most of the ID the government wants us to be able to provide when we vote isn't all that hard to get, at least not for the demographic that makes up most of the governing party's constituency, so anyone who isn't willing to go to the trouble must not really want to vote, right? But let's apply the very same reasonableness argument to another voting measure, and see what happens:
We need to pay a fee when we write a cheque, when we apply for a passport or a driver's license, when we buy alcohol, and any of countless other every day interactions. It's not that big an imposition for these, all of which need to be paid for somehow. So why is it unreasonable to expect voters to pay a modest poll tax when they show up to vote?
Why indeed. After all, assuming the price is something really low (or as we are wont to say of inexpensive things, "reasonable"), it can't really be considered a barrier to democratic participation, can it? Anyone who can't be bothered to scrape together $5 once every four years or so must not really care enough to vote, right?
See, "reasonable" is not an argument by itself. Requiring that someone be able to provide one of 37 different forms of acceptable ID is of course "reasonable" in terms of the scale of sacrifice it demands, just as $5 per person is a very "reasonable" price for all that goes into running an election. But that's using the adjective "reasonable" in two ways, and trying to pass the whole claim off as reasonable. It is not reasonable to charge any price (however "reasonable") for the right to vote.
The way we determine if an argument is reasonable is by looking at the quality of its reasoning. And the reasoning behind voter ID laws is profoundly flawed. It's based on a host of pernicious assumptions that are downright poisonous to the idea of democratic governance.
First of all, one of these assumptions is that voting is an individual right. It isn't. Voting looks like an individual right, because you can choose to vote or not to vote, and no one else has any claim on how you vote or if you vote at all. It's entirely your choice how to exercise the right, but taken in isolation, the individual right to vote is utterly meaningless. (Your choice not to vote isn't actually a choice not to vote, but rather to ratify the outcome of how everyone else votes. And that's a valid choice, but it should be a choice.)
Imagine you show up at the polling station with several hundred others, all of whom agree with you that candidate A is the better choice. There are about nine people supporting candidate B, but it just so happens that they're the ones managing the voting process. One by one, each person who presents their credentials to vote is rejected for totally arbitrary reasons. But for some reason, they look at your ID, hand you your ballot, and let you vote. The final result: Candidate B is elected in a landslide with 90% of all votes cast.
Do you have any right to complain about this? After all, your right to vote wasn't violated. You got to cast your ballot. The fact that a lot of other people didn't is none of your concern, is it?
You bet it is. That's kind of the point of voting: finding out what the collective will of The People is, and that involves taking into account everyone's free and uncoerced choice at the voting booth. Your right isn't just to have your vote counted, but to have everyone else's vote counted as well.
If voting were only an individual right, then the fact that some poor schmuck doesn't get to vote because he doesn't have $5 or the right kind of ID would be of no concern to the rest of us. But the very nature of voting is inherently collective; everyone who supports the same candidate as the excluded voter is penalized when that voter is excluded. Arbitrary barriers, however "reasonable", reduce participation and undermine the legitimacy of the outcome.