Our History as a Fraud-Ridden Banana Republic
The right-wing is super-seriously concerned about voter fraud this year. After Republicans took control of a number of state legislatures, they made sure to enact strict new voter identification laws to ensure that legions of imposters aren’t stealing elections. If historically disenfranchised minority groups are disproportionately affected by the new laws, that’s a small price to uphold the integrity of the electoral process. Remember, it’s just a coincidence that voting blocs that tend to vote for Democrats – the young, blacks, hispanics, the poor, urbanites – are much less likely to have the type of photo ID that the new laws require. Concealed Handgun License = totally permitted; Student I.D./social security card = completely unacceptable.
Listening to the excessive rhetoric, you might start believing the world’s greatest constitutional republic could never have had a legitimate election in its history. Washington, Lincoln, Reagan! all elected without the safeguard of GOP-approved photo IDs. So should Americans just acknowledge our history as a banana republic, asterisk our first 44 presidencies as invalid, and from this day forward commit every available resource to obliterate the scourge of in-person voter fraud?
Fortunately, for the sake of our national psyche, it turns out that voter impersonation is basically a figment of conservative paranoia. The Brennan Center For Justice conducted the largest study to date and found that individual voter fraud is virtually nonexistent. Not a single person was prosecuted for in-person voter fraud after a 2002 to 2007 probe by the Justice Department came up empty handed. And as Rolling Stone reports, “A much-hyped investigation in Wisconsin, meanwhile, led to the prosecution of only .0007 percent of the local electorate for alleged voter fraud.” In other words, the problem is not actually a problem. But that hasn’t stopped the Republican Party from finding solutions that just happen to disenfranchise eligible voters.
If you live in a place where most people drive, it’s easy to assume that almost everyone has a government-issued photo ID. The reality is that around 11% (21+million) of US citizens don’t have one, 18% of people 65+ don’t, and close to 1-in-4 African Americans lack that type of ID.
Can’t they just get one?
It’s not always as easy as you think. Many older citizens born before the 1970s were born out a hospital and lack the proper birth certificate. Older black citizens born into the Jim Crow south were frequently born out of hospitals to midwives and often have misspelled names on their birth certificates. As many as 32 million voting-age women may lack citizenship documents with their current name (usually the result of marriage). Students that moved out-of-state also face higher hurdles to vote.
After Wisconsin passed their voter ID requirement, they helpfully closed 10 DMVs that coincidentally were in Democratic districts. In Texas, one third of the counties don’t have a licensing office, while “a little less than a quarter of driver’s license offices have extended hours, which would make it tough for many working voters to find a place and time to acquire the IDs.”
Couldn’t the government make it easier to get IDs?
It could, but often doesn’t. Back in Texas, the voter ID law cut the amendments that would have extended licensing office hours and helped pay for travel expenses. Voter ID laws still cost millions of dollars to put in place, and states are reluctant to commit the resources to ensure every eligible citizen can get an ID. For poor citizens without ready access to citizenship documents or inaccurate birth certificates it can be a true financial burden to get the necessary documents and ID.
How much will voter ID laws suppress turnout?
It’s difficult to estimate. One study found that around 5 million eligible voters will find it “significantly harder” to cast a ballot. A study in the Harvard Law and Policy Review determined that voter ID laws “disenfranchised between 3 and 4.5 million voters in 2006” even before many of the stricter laws were put in place. Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post argues that voter ID laws suppressing turnout is false or exaggerated, writing, “the states with the strictest photo ID laws (Georgia and Indiana) had higher minority turnout than those with no photo ID requirements.”
For the sake of argument let’s assume that the effect is minor. You still have to answer, how many citizens are you willing to disenfranchise to solve a problem that doesn’t exist?
Voting isn’t a privilege, it’s a right. In a nation with an ugly history of disenfranchising American minorities, we should be extra vigilant to ensure every citizen’s constitutional right is secure. All the evidence suggests that voter impersonation is extraordinarily rare. Even James O’Keefe’s made-up examples don’t prove what advocates of voter ID laws think it does. Kevin Drum:
Nobody in his right mind deliberately casts an illegal ballot. You’re risking a felony rap over one vote. Hell, O’Keefe’s guy wasn’t willing to risk it even though that was the whole point of the stunt, and even though, according to Shapiro, the odds of getting caught were “almost zero.” That’s because O’Keefe’s stooge isn’t clinically insane, which is about what you’d have to be to take a chance like that for essentially no gain at all.
Presidential elections only tend to turn out just over 50% of the voting age population; it seems improbable that any significant number of imposters are risking felony charges when getting actual voters to the polls poses such logistical difficulties for political campaigns. A small number frauds wouldn’t swing an election, and even if in the best case scenario that voter disenfranchisement doesn’t effect the outcome of the election, it’s still too high a price to pay. Any individual’s vote is statistically unlikely to alter an election, but voting has psychological, social, and civic benefits. The bar for depriving any amount of citizens their constitutional rights needs to be a whole lot higher than the mere potential for some fraud.
The small-government, liberty-loving, bureaucracy-hating, Constitution-worshipping, low-tax-champion Tea Partyers passed a solution to a non-problem that gives the government and bureaucrats more power, makes it harder for citizens to practice their constitutional rights, and costs the taxpayers more money. Yet somehow, it’s not the hypocrisy that bothers me.