Thoughts on Recent Voter ID Laws (including Pennsylvania)

Update: the ACLU of Pennsylvania has joined with some other groups in filing a lawsuit against the Commonwealth for the Pennsylvania Voter ID law

Yesterday, Conservative activist James O’Keefe pulled a clever prank on Attorney General Eric Holder.

There has been a wave of voter ID laws passing across the country. These laws create the requirement that residents must show a state-issued photo ID before they can cast a ballot in an election.

Attorney General Holder (not my favorite guy, I might add) has said in the past that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the U.S., and so these laws are unnecessary. Yesterday, O’Keefe made a video of a man clearly not Eric Holder, going into Holder’s own voting precinct, asking for Holder’s ballot, and being offered it with no ID needed. The point? Voter fraud can happen!

Conservative blogs went nuts yesterday; it seemed like the ultimate “gotcha” moment against the Department of Justice. But was it?

This has become one of those inexplicably “partisan” issues. Most issues, at least sort of fit nicely somewhere on the liberal-big-government/conservative-small-government spectrum, but this doesn’t make sense. Of all the things to become a rallying point for a particular party, this? These voter ID laws have been passed almost exclusively by Republican governors across the country.

How dumb do these governors think we are? This is entirely political (and shamefully so), rather than practical. It has been empirically shown that these laws impact–almost exclusively–groups that typically vote democratic. Also, ultimately, O’Keefe’s prank “proves” nothing. The New Yorker explains how this is more Punk’d than 60 Minutes-quality work; and as New York magazine points out:

There are a lot of disruptive things that people are capable of doing that they nevertheless don’t do, and which we consequently don’t need to freak out about. Someone could, hypothetically, go to a local supermarket and lick all the apples, just to savor the essence of apple without coughing up 30 cents. That doesn’t mean we should lock up all the apples behind a plexiglass barrier.

But that’s not all. These laws also go against many of the supposed core principles of contemporary Republicans.

One of the strictest voter ID laws was passed last month here in Pennsylvania (it’s being challenged). Fiscally, this law is one of the least conservative you could think of. The only way Pennsylvania could constitutionally  get away with such a strict voting law is if they offered the State-issued IDs for free (else the law would amount to a modern “poll-tax”, a staple of old Jim Crow laws). After the dramatic cuts Governor Corbett proposed in his budget this year, this new law is going to cost $11 million to implement (this has been estimated by some to be far too low of an amount to cover everybody, and that’s about a quarter of the money that was cut from Philadelphia alone). In short, there is huge costs associated passing laws like this.

Second, the big line Democrats are throwing against these laws is that they are “solutions looking for a problem”, and even though I hate oft-repeated lines of rhetoric, I think this one has some merit.

Republicans generally try to appear as pragmatists. “Progressives”, they critique, are always trying to find new things to “fix” or “reform” in order to push their “radical social vision” on the rest of the world. “Conservatives”, by definition, want to keep the movements and actions of the government limited: they only want to legislate and take action when a problem presents itself, not when they go out and look for it.

But study after study after study after study shows that voter fraud is not an issue. This did not arise out of some wave of fraud or public opinion that demanded a legislative response. It is political. It is partisan. It is an election season. It is a very “progressive” and “activist” move on Republicans’ parts.

Relatedly, and lastly, just on a philosophical level this is against the basic core principle of Conservatism: limit government and its role to as small as it can be to still do what it needs to do. Indeed, this is more government, more spending, more bureaucracy, more paperwork, and more “over-reach” into the personal and private lives of citizens.

Republicans don’t want a paper trail to track gun owners, but they insist on one for voters. They don’t want to force people to participate in a health insurance scheme that benefits the whole and tries to solve a problem, but they will force people into a bureaucratic and identification scheme to try and solve what’s not problem.

How, then, is this a uniquely “Republican” issue?

Look, at the end of the day, I’m pretty Libertarian with my beliefs on the basic role and function of government, but I am embarrassed and angry to share even a modicum of (supposed) political philosophical similarity with this sect of Republicans. The loss of common-sense and basic rationality in what they put their energies to boggles my mind and reinforces every bad stereotype this nation has and further reinforces every disenchantment and pessimism its citizens bear.

And honestly, I think Republicans are almost exclusively to blame for this–and not for their political views, mind you, but for their lack of integrity, ingenuity, and (at least appearance of) intelligence.

So here’s my challenge to any supporter of these Voter ID laws: I’m willing to change my mind on this based on simple math. Tell me the estimated number of instances of voter fraud that will be prevented by these laws. Then tell me the estimated number of people that will be prevented from voting in the next election by these laws. Whichever number is bigger, that side has my support on this issue.

Republicans, your math isn’t looking encouraging.

[image credit]


8 thoughts on “Thoughts on Recent Voter ID Laws (including Pennsylvania)

  1. Interesting blog post. It pays to look at everything more closely. I think there needs to be some sort of ID required. We used to have to present our voter registration card. It troubled me the past couple voting cycles when suddenly that was no longer necessary and I could walk into the polls and just “say” who I am and name my “address”. What??? I don’t have to present my precious card anymore?? I ALWAYS had to present that card and suddenly I don’t? As one who takes my voting right quite seriously I was inwardly troubled. I do believe in some sort of ID, albeit at the very least the little yellow voter registration card. I have lived in two states and always did this. When my children registered at age 18 I hammered into them to NEVER lose this card. Keep it in their lock box with their Social Security card. And suddenly we don’t have to bring ANYTHING? Let’s strike a balance and bring the card back. It doesn’t have to be a big police-state government bureaucratic device.


  2. As someone turned down at my precent, that registered twice with two different Obama 2008 campaign volunteers, who cast provisional ballots that were turned down because they could not verify my identity, I am in favor of voter id laws. Wouldn’t it just be simpler to pass a ID law for voting to verify address and identity? Give free IDs to those that request them on the spot, even if it means allowing provisional ballots to be cast and later verified. Why not end this perennial favorite? BTW, anyone calling it a poll tax is being dishonest at best. Insuring a free and fair election is the heart of democracy.


  3. Maybe I should have said this in the post, but as a social worker, I deal with precisely the population these laws will affect the most. And I can tell you: they have no knowledge of these laws, they don’t have their birth certificates (to get their free ID), they don’t have bills in their name (to prove residency), they have no mony, no cars, and no knowledge, often, of how to go about getting these things. Much of my job is helping these folks get these items, but most people aren’t lucky enough to have a social worker.

    Maybe you think our nation world be better if people as politically-ignorant as they had barriers to voting, but that would be a different discussion.

    As it stands now, though, these laws completely and unnecessarily prevent these voting blocks from participating in our democratic system.


  4. That’s one reason why I am for provisional ballots and free IDs. On a side note, it would be very interesting to see how many essentially ID-less people vote.


  5. Pingback: ACLU of Pennsylvania Files Suit Against Voter ID Law | the long way home

  6. Paul – I don’t think anyone is going to take you up on your challenge. At this point it’s very clear that despite the urban legends about ACORN and dead people voting in Chicago, the kind of fraud voter ID laws are supposed to correct simply doesn’t exists in the US.

    In it’s July 10, 2012 edition, the Harrisburg Patriot-News reported that “the Republican National Lawyers Association last year published a report showing 400 election fraud prosecutions had happened over a decade nationwide. That is not even one per state per year.”

    Not even one whole case per state per year! And that’s what the Republicans say.

    Here’s the clincher: in court filings in the lawsuit brought against its voter ID law, the state of Pennsylvania made these stipulations:

    “There have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states.” The state further stipulated that it “will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere,” nor will it “offer argument or evidence that in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the Photo ID law.”

    In other words, not only could they not find fraud that would be corrected by ID laws in PA, they don’t claim it exists anywhere in the nation!

    I appreciate the fact that although you don’t like the Atty General, you’ve been fair about voter ID. Thanks.


  7. Pingback: Proud to be an American: a blow to Voter ID Laws | the long way home | Prodigal Paul

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