August 19, 2014

The trouble with photo IDs.

The people who check them aren't much good at telling whether the person they're looking at matches the photo. And:
Facial recognition is easier for some than others, and there's a broad range of ability. Many people don't even realize they have some degree of "face blindness" until they read a description of the neurological quirk, and others (myself included!) have notable difficulties with facial memory. But the idea that the agent checking passports might be unable to tell people apart is a bit worrisome. In response to this particular study, the Australian Passport Office now uses facial matching tests during its staff recruitment process.
Poor ability to recognize faces makes you seem uncaring, so I would think many people would deny that they have this problem and would develop strategies for avoiding letting it show — to others and even to themselves. If someone seems as though they recognize you, do you act like you probably know them and talk to them for a while to get some clues who they are? Do you have anxiety that a person of a different race may accuse you of thinking that black/Asian/etc. people all look alike to you and you won't sound credible saying that everyone looks too much alike to you?

There's such sympathy for the blind, but none for the prosopagnosiacs. But if it's real and there are no prescription glasses that can fix it, we should be open to ourselves and others about the condition. It's not like the ability to remember names, which really is evidence of uncaring. (Or is the inability to remember names a condition? If it is, the condition would have a name, and the people with the condition might forget it.)

Anyway, I think the linked article (in The Washington Post) is part of an agenda to defeat photo ID requirements. If professional passport officials aren't even good, why would those people who work at your local polling place be reliable? But I'm interested in the larger question of our different and hard-to-perceive disabilities. And now I'm perceiving a related subject: our different levels of ability to perceive that another person has a hard-to-perceive disability.

72 comments:

richard mcenroe said...

I could only wish the average polling place worker was under the same time pressures and workload constraints as a passport official...

Original Mike said...

"If someone seems as though they recognize you, do you act like you probably know them and talk to them for a while to get some clues who they are?"

I have trouble with faces, but am very good with voices. I often don't recognize someone of passing acquaintance until they speak.

EDH said...

Anyway, I think the linked article (in The Washington Post) is part of an agenda to defeat photo ID requirements.

Isn't their overarching argument that there is no voter fraud anyway, so what's the danger that someone would use a fake ID?

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I have a lot of trouble learning names and recognizing faces of people I don't know well. If I am meeting someone in a group I often have to focus on one unique detail, such as a feature of their glasses, a particular hairstyle, etc.

And yes, one time the attribute was skin color. And yes, after wandering off for a while and coming back to continue my conversation with the person of the same skin color, standing in the same part of the room, I did find out that particular attribute was not unique in that case. And yes, I did get teased about we all look alike.

Bob Ellison said...

Way too meta.

m stone said...

I agree that inexact face matching is part of the agenda to defeat voter id. It is curious that I've never seen this as a reason in the supporting court decisions. It (simply obtaining the id) is more often called restrictive to a citizen's right to vote or discriminating, almost always on race or economic condition.

This is a new tack that will probably catch on with id opponents.

I fear we're at the point now that an official questioning any photo id is open to racial or ethnic discrimination charges or intimidation, if only verbal. Hypersensitivity. This could stir the pot.

Hagar said...

Like Ignorance, I am not good with either faces or names either, and tend to be at a total loss when meeting someone again out of their natural (for me) habitat or dressed differently.
I do remember their names and details of the sins they have committed if they have screwed up something on a job of mine though.

Ann Althouse said...

"Isn't their overarching argument that there is no voter fraud anyway, so what's the danger that someone would use a fake ID?"

Yes, but this argument works on the people who do think it's a problem. Even if the nonproblem you think is a problem were a problem, this wouldn't be a solution. There is good reason to make arguments like that, and it doesn't undercut the argument that you find so good.

Let's say your wife thinks there are mice in the house and wants you to set some traps that you know don't work on mice. You're sure there are no mice in the house, but she keeps fretting about them and nagging you about setting the traps. You'd tell her those traps don't even work on mice anyway.

Matthew Sablan said...

Every polling place I've been to has asked for my address along with my I.D. I imagine double verification would be the way to go with any security token.

Ann Althouse said...

Now, she just doesn't believe you that the traps don't work.

But that's the analogy.

tds said...

Is having problems with remembering names, and faces and putting it together (Assburger, lol) really the same as not being able to compare face on the photo with a real individual???

Achilles said...

If we are so bad at recognizing faces we won't be able to recognize a dead person who now looks like a zombie but still has their ID.

If it is such a meaningless gesture the dems shouldn't have a problem with it right?

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Let's say your wife thinks there are mice in the house and wants you to set some traps that you know don't work on mice. You're sure there are no mice in the house, but she keeps fretting about them and nagging you about setting the traps. You'd tell her those traps don't even work on mice anyway.

I've been happily married for 25 years. I know enough to set the frickin' traps, and to keep mine shut.

Anonymous said...

'Cat is Out of the Bag, Man' Guy says:

The cat is out of the bag, man! Now they're trying to say your photo ID doesn't even prove it's you! Ciphers, man! They're taking your identity away and leaving you blank, so that they can later say you look like the guilty dude in some black-and-white video picture and the crime hasn't even been committed yet! Shit-house rat time, you hear? The cat is out of the bag, man!

Bob Ellison said...

Original Mike, I'm like you: I know the voice but am bad with faces and names.

A veterinarian recently told me my dog's declining vision and hearing might not be as bad as I think, because, he said, dogs sense things mostly with their noses. I've seen this dog do that: sniff her way to the open door, away from things she fears, toward someone she wants to greet, etc.

Here's a grisly party question: if you had to lose your eyesight or your hearing, not both, but at least one, which would you choose to lose?

I choose blindness. Someone else can drive. I want to hear my wife, my children, and the music and noises around.

Matthew Sablan said...

You could also set the traps and then, one day when she's gone, clear the traps and say that you've disposed of the mice, if you'd rather not argue and are OK with little white mice -- I mean lies.

Bobber Fleck said...

My photo ID (driver's license) includes my:

Height
Weight
Eye color
Sex
Birth date
Address

The photo is helpful, but the other information makes it fairly easy to confirm a person's identity. It makes it harder for dead people to vote.

Ann Althouse said...

Improved analogy:

Let's say your wife thinks there are mice in the house and believes that coyote urine will keep them out. You're sure there are no mice in the house, but she keeps fretting about them and nagging you about setting the traps. You'd tell her coyote urine doesn't keep out mice, and we'd have the additional problem of coyote urine in the house.

Hagar said...

A gov't passport officer or a TSA boarding pass checker does that 2080 hours a year and mostly cares about his/her paycheck.

The ladies at the voting ID table gets to do that every other year, and it is an occasion for them. They take a little time to check the signature and address, even without the photo ID, and they look at you.
When there is voter fraud, it is deliberate, and generally in the Big City machine areas.

Bob Ellison said...

Still more improved analogy: your wife says coyotes are in the house, and molding mice corpses will keep them out.

Open the doors all night so that the coyotes show up. (Note: they won't show up. Coyotes are afraid of humans, and people who think coyotes are around are usually idiots.)

Go buy some mice, duct-tape them into a box until they die and start to fester, and put them in the basement.

Wait for the coyotes. Wait...

Tibore said...

Ok, since we're on the topic of poor facial recognition with ID photos:

http://i.imgur.com/9lenlh3.gif

Yes, there are many serious things to say about this, but others will say them just fine. I choose to laugh; it's my mood at the moment. :D

Christopher B said...

It certainly looks like this is an attempt to create an additional problem but focusing on verification of a photo in a photo id requirement is mostly a distraction.

The fundamental principle is to force voters to present some form of identification that's both difficult to duplicate and has been generated by an agency with a serious interest in verifying the identity of the holder. In other words, the point is disallowing voting based on utility bills, bank statements, and other bits of paper that are easily counterfited.

Christopher B said...

And you can tell it's a distraction based on the number of people that keep yelling .. "look, coyote urine"

Freeman Hunt said...

I have a relative who is terrible at recognizing faces. Given the pretty uniform standard of beauty for actors, watching movies with this person, who often thinks different people are the same people, is interesting.

Freeman Hunt said...

But the person would still have to have an ID with the right name on it. I would think that that would discourage a lot of fraud.

Freeman Hunt said...

Having a terrible time understanding people on the phone, especially people one hasn't talked to much on the phone before. I think that is a common, hard to discern disability.

Tank said...



Freeman Hunt said...

But the person would still have to have an ID with the right name on it. I would think that that would discourage a lot of fraud.


Yes, just knowing that you have to have photo ID will discourage many (most) people from trying.

lgv said...

Regardless of how well people do recognizing faces, a photo ID will eliminate the low hanging fruit of fraudulent voters, those who would only illegally vote if they didn't need to show ID.

If there is a risk of getting challenged, then many would skip the attempt. It's like airport searches. If only 90% of bomb carriers were stopped, it could still be enough of a deterrent to cause potential bombers to choose another method with a lower probability of getting caught.

SeanF said...

Ann Althouse: Improved analogy:

Let's say your wife thinks there are mice in the house and believes that coyote urine will keep them out. You're sure there are no mice in the house, but she keeps fretting about them and nagging you about setting the traps. You'd tell her coyote urine doesn't keep out mice, and we'd have the additional problem of coyote urine in the house.


What's the "additional problem" with having photo ID for voting?

The way I see it, it's a "keep people honest" solution. It wouldn't be impossible to still commit voter fraud, but it would require more effort to do so.

But I won't believe anybody who says there's no point in requiring photo ID to vote because of this unless they also say there's no point in requiring photo ID to buy cigarettes, alcohol, or firearms. Or to drive, for that matter.

Birkel said...

Althouse:

Your analogy fails because the address on a license should match the address on the voter rolls. There are no faces involved.

Every state requires (I believe) changing the address within 90 days of changing a domicile. Therefore the number of mismatched should be kept low if people follow the law.

Matthew Sablan said...

I view IDs about the same as locking the door or signing the back of your credit card. It won't stop 100% of identity theft, voter fraud, etc. -- but it will stop a lot of crimes of opportunity.

Bob Ellison said...

The low-hanging fruit of people showing up to vote without ID is not the problem.

The big fruit is major vote fraud. Lying. Ballot-stuffing.

Democracy relies upon people trusting other people. That is not happening in our society.

Leftists promote distrust everywhere. Hate everyone.

If the republic cannot accept the people's choice of government, then the republic will tend to dissolve.

Ann Althouse said...

"My photo ID (driver's license) includes my.... weight..."

Imagine the chaos at the polls if they start questioning whether people are the weight it says on the card!

Ignorance is Bliss said...

They should have weigh-ins at the polling place.

Ann Althouse said...

"The ladies at the voting ID table gets to do that every other year, and it is an occasion for them..."

Those ladies are getting older and older. How well do they see? And moe important, what will we do when they've passed on? Newer old women are different, I think.

Meade said...

Here's the law in Wisconsin. Photo ID or not, I recommend all mice obey this law:

12.13 Election fraud. (1) ELECTORS. Whoever intentionally does any of the following violates this chapter:
(a) Votes at any election or meeting if that person does not have the necessary elector qualifications and residence requirements. (b) Falsely procures registration or makes false statements to
the municipal clerk, board of election commissioners or any other election official whether or not under oath.
(c) Registers as an elector in more than one place for the same election.
(d) Impersonates a registered elector or poses as another per- son for the purpose of voting at an election.
(e) Votes more than once in the same election.
(f) Shows his or her marked ballot to any person or places a mark upon the ballot so it is identifiable as his or her ballot.
(g) Procures an official ballot and neglects or refuses to cast or return it. This paragraph does not apply to persons who have applied for and received absentee ballots.
(h) Procures, assists or advises someone to do any of the acts prohibited by this subsection.
12.60 Penalties. (1) (a) Whoever violates s. 12.09, 12.11 or 12.13 (1), (2) (b) 1. to 7. or (3) (a), (e), (f), (j), (k), (L), (m), (y) or (z) is guilty of a Class I felony.
(b) Whoeverviolatess.12.03,12.05,12.07,12.08or12.13(2) (b) 8., (3) (b), (c), (d), (g), (i), (n) to (x), (ze), (zm) or (zn) may be fined not more than $1,000, or imprisoned not more than 6 months or both.
(bm) Whoeverviolatess.12.13(5)maybefinednotmorethan $10,000 or imprisoned for not more than 9 months or both.
(c) Whoever violates s. 12.13 (3) (am) may be required to for- feit not more than $500.
(d) Whoeverviolatess.12.035or12.13(3)(h)mayberequired to forfeit not more than $100.
(2) (a) If a successful candidate for public office, other than a candidate for the legislature or a candidate for national office, is adjudged guilty in a criminal action of any violation of this chapter under sub. (1) (a) committed during his or her candidacy, the court shall after entering judgment enter a supplemental judgment declaring a forfeiture of the candidate’s right to office. The sup- plemental judgment shall be transmitted to the officer or agency authorized to issue the certificate of nomination or election to the office for which the person convicted is a candidate. If the candi- date’s term has begun, the office shall become vacant. The office shall then be filled in the manner provided by law.
(b) If a successful candidate for the legislature or U.S. congress is adjudged guilty in a criminal action of any violation of this chapter under sub. (1) (a) committed during his or her candidacy, the court shall after entering judgment certify its findings to the presiding officer of the legislative body to which the candidate was elected.
(3) Any election official who is convicted of any violation of this chapter shall, in addition to the punishment otherwise pro- vided, be disqualified to act as an election official for a term of 5 years from the time of conviction.
(4) Prosecutions under this chapter shall be conducted in accordance with s. 11.61 (2).
History: 1973 c. 334; 1975 c. 85; 1977 c. 418 s. 924 (18) (e); 1977 c. 427; 1979 c. 249, 311, 328; 1983 a. 484; 1985 a. 304; 1997 a. 283; 1999 a. 49; 2001 a. 109; 2005 a. 451; 2007 a. 1.

Ann Althouse said...

"What's the "additional problem" with having photo ID for voting?"

People without IDs and the feeling that requiring an ID is unfriendly or designed to keep poor people and minorities from voting.

Ann Althouse said...

@freeman

I'm going to do a new post on this movie topic. I think it does keep people away from movies.

Meade said...

"Let's say your wife thinks there are mice in the house and believes that coyote urine will keep them out. "

I would ask my nagging wife to show me her photo ID to verify that she really is my wife. If she accuses me of nagger suppression and refuses to show me her photo ID, I would then know that she is in fact my wife. (But just to be sure, I'd give her a big hug — after getting consent, of course — pick her up off the floor, and judge her weight. If she seems a few pounds too heavy, I'd put her back down and accuse her of being an imposter.)

Bob Ellison said...

Professor, you sound so hopeful.

Come, let us be reasonable. Elections are not stolen by individuals walking up to the lady dragons with insufficient ID.

Stealing an election requires more effort than that. This voter ID issue is a squirrel.

THOMASt WREN said...

"But I'm interested in the larger question of our different and hard-to-perceive disabilities.

But it is not a disability is it? It's an inability.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

My face memory is excellent. My memory of names is horrible.

Anonymous said...

It isn't as if there is one person in control of voting stations. Most polling places are filled with people, there are other voters, multiple election day workers who check signatures, monitor the ballot boxes, judges of election on duty to handle disputes, etc.
It is unlikely that one person who is uniquely bad at recognizing faces will constitute even a minor impediment to voting. If this is the new argument against voter id laws, only someone with no actual voting experience would find it convincing.

rhhardin said...

The point of photo-id is to make the fraudster nervous, not to verify the face.

There used to be no photo on drivers' licenses and nobody thought it mattered.

Getting an Austrian acknowledgement of a US pilot's license in the early 60s, the Austrian lady complained that there was no photo on the US license.

The culture was other there, owing to the Hitlerzeit.

Meade said...

Rather than photo ID, the would-be voter should be required to spit into a tube.

Anonymous said...

I have to sign my name in a book every time I go to vote. The signature I used when obtaining my voter registration card is on the same page, but upside down. Is there a claim for voter suppression because these people are not handwriting experts and not qualified to judge whether the signatures match?

Freeman Hunt said...

The aforementioned relative had a terrible time with The Departed because Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, and Matt Damon all appeared to be the same person.

Meade said...

@ Freeman: I think the aforementioned relative just might be on to something.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

The Departed took me a couple of viewings to work everybody out.

Bill said...

An old landlord of mine had prosopagnosia. He was a forensic psychologist skilled at recognizing the veracity of criminal suspects, and said his disability aided him in his work.

He recognized me in public by my distinctive hat. I was a complete stranger when I wasn't wearing it.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Whiteys all look alike.

Bob Ellison said...

Prosopagnosia is over-diagnosed and probably largely bullshit. This area, psychology, is not scientific.

I like the writing of Oliver Sacks, but he delves into crap here.

Peter said...

Software has become pretty good at face recognition, even when the face has grown a mustache or is coated with makeup.

I'd think that such software augmented with a person who could over-ride the software would have a very low error rate indeed. Especially if there were later review of the over-rides to verify that the over-rider was not jsut enabling fraud.

Original Mike said...

"I have a relative who is terrible at recognizing faces. Given the pretty uniform standard of beauty for actors, watching movies with this person, who often thinks different people are the same people, is interesting."

Actors are even harder, being in costume and all. But once they speak, I can tell you they played the butler in some film I saw 10 years ago.

tim in vermont said...

I have a deficit in this area and it has cost me socially, at work anyway.

If I watch a movie with two blondes I don't know already, or two brunettes, I once watched one with Penelope Cruz and Selma Hyak and it was well into the movie before I could reliably tell them apart.

Happens with multiple similar men in a movie, if they have haircuts the same, or whatever.

On the other hand, Voter ID is as much about making it difficult as possible to vote multiple times, and if one is forced to make convincing fake IDs, that limits fraud, whether somebody can tell faces or not.

Original Mike said...

"The aforementioned relative had a terrible time with The Departed because Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, and Matt Damon all appeared to be the same person."

I originally thought Wahlberg and Damon were the same person. I don't get DiCaprio, though.

Original Mike said...

"Rather than photo ID, the would-be voter should be required to spit into a tube."

I was thinking tattoos.

Original Mike said...

"People without IDs and the feeling that requiring an ID is unfriendly or designed to keep poor people and minorities from voting."

Oh, boo-hoo; it's "unfriendly".

Anonymous said...

I think I suffer from some faceblindness. I have developed some strategies to get around it. Keeping a conversation going until you get a clue as to who someone is is one of them, another is focusing on non-facial features like clothes and hair. The downside is, if someone changes their hair I have no idea who they are. My wife likes to tease me when we watch movies and TV by asking me if I recognize an actor in a show, but if they've changed their hair from the role I knew them in, I usually can't. It is especially hard with actors, male and female, since all actors tend to be generically pretty these days (I do better at recognizing old people). Recently we watched the show Orphan Black. The whole conceit is that in the first episode this woman meets a bunch of other people who look exactly like her. It's the same actor playing three or four different roles, but the hair and clothes and speech patterns and everything are so different, I literally did not realize they were all the same person until the next day, when my wife said "that actor is really talented, playing all those different roles." The entire conceit of the show was lost on me! (Another strategy: have a spouse who doesn't suffer from faceblindness)

But it's not debilitating or anything. In the real world people are a lot more distinctive than the enforced uniform smooth prettiness of Hollywood. I can recognize close friends and family, no matter how they change their hair. I teach, and I can recognize my students' faces after a couple of weeks (although I forget them quickly after a semester ends: I've had former students come up and talk to me and had no idea who they are).

I'm not sure how I'd do checking a photo ID though. I think (my) faceblindness has more to do with memory. I think if I could hold up a picture next to a live face, I could probably tell if they matched, at least roughly.

Original Mike said...

My father died two weeks ago, and figuring out who I was talking to at the visitation was especially challenging. On top of my usual problems, I hadn't seen some of these people in decades. I soon figured out to hang close to my brother. He does not have my disability. He knew everybody right off.

Yancey Ward said...

Logically, even if people are poor at recognizing that the person presenting the ID and the photograph on the ID, it doesn't undermine the reason for requiring a photo-ID to vote. The point is to make it difficult for someone to vote illegally in the place of another person. Just requiring such a cheat to procure a fake ID limits the damage such a person can inflict.

SeanF said...

Ann Althouse: "What's the "additional problem" with having photo ID for voting?"

People without IDs and the feeling that requiring an ID is unfriendly or designed to keep poor people and minorities from voting.


Stupid/lazy people deciding not to vote doesn't strike me as a problem on a level with "coyote urine in the house."

Just sayin'.

Mike said...

I have a related problem in that my facial type is rather generic and I have been mistaken for many people. Quite often when meeting people for the first time they remark that they think they know me from somewhere. In most cases they don't, of course. I just have a familiar look is all!

tim in vermont said...

Like the Rick Perry indictment and the IRS abuse, killing voter ID laws is about gaining electoral advantage. Same with legalizing aliens who then cannot be prevented from voting either.

It is all about creating a one party state, not just a one party state, but a one party state well to the left of the mainstream.

lgv said...

Perhaps people with difficulty recognizing faces may not work at the polls?

I once asked a surgeon friend about smart people who go to med school and want to become surgeons only to realize their eye/hand coordination sucks. All their brain power and good grades doesn't make them as good a surgeon as a seamstress. His reply was that it worked itself out. They gravitated toward their strengths when choosing a specialty.

ken in sc said...

My first driver's licence, Alabama, had no picture. Instead it had my right thumb print and three pink stripes indicating that I was too young to buy beer. Fortunately for me, the people in Mississippi didn't know that. That's where I bought my beer.

No one ever checked my thumb.

Anonymous said...

I had to card ppl for my first job when I was 16. I couldn't tell 18 from 25 from 30. I hated having to do it. It made me anxious. I would vaguely look at the birth year and never at the picture. I'd do anything I could to get you your summer vacation beer. :)

tim in vermont said...

Mike, your picture always looked like Adam Carolla to me.

Original Mike said...

"Mike, your picture always looked like Adam Carolla to me."

Me, too.

stlcdr said...


"People without IDs and the feeling that requiring an ID is unfriendly or designed to keep poor people and minorities from voting."

What has friendly got to do with anything? Voting isn't a 'friendly' thing to do.

Turning the minority thing on its head, one could argue that the looting and rioting as documented by the media is designed to create mistrust of minorities - they are looters and rioters, after all.

The ability to identify through a third party that is trustworthy (sic) is a bastion of a civilized society that extends way beyond the friendly neighborhood.

twgin said...

While in favor of voter ID, it only addresses one side of the table at the polls. If there is organized chicanery on the "official" side of the table there is nothing to stop the bus full of ID'ed voters from driving from polling place to polling place. Wonder how the purple fingers would go down here in the US ? Might as well admit we are third world now is my take on that. Its a process IMHO, voter ID, clean up and maintain the rolls, find some way to handle migratory snowbirds and students, ID and stamp out larger scale political machine schemes. Too bad the Justice Department could care less and good luck in Chicago !

William R. Hamblen said...

I don't remember names, but I always forget a face.