Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why I Oppose Stricter Voter ID Laws

I don't believe we as a nation should tolerate voter fraud. Neither should we tolerate voter suppression. But what if pursuing the former increases the latter? I'm convinced that is the case, intentionally or not. The balance is not even close. That's the sticking point for me, leading me to oppose the strict new voter ID laws many states are passing, including Texas.

Details after the jump.

If anyone would be on the lookout for voter fraud, it would be Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. Yet he managed to come up with only 50 cases of voter fraud over ten years (2002-2012). That's an average of five per year. Of the 50 cases in Texas, only two were described as "voter impersonation," the kind of voter fraud that voter ID laws will prevent. (Source: Politifact.)

I'm all for attorneys general like Greg Abbott continuing to police our polling places for voter fraud. I'm against them imposing new requirements on the vast majority of legal voters in the name of stopping a tiny amount of voter fraud. Stricter voter ID laws won't prevent the majority of the cases of voter fraud Abbott identified, but the laws will have the inevitable side effect of making it significantly more difficult for some legally qualified persons to vote. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School:
Studies show that as many as 11 percent of eligible voters do not have government-issued photo ID. That percentage is even higher for seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, and students. Many citizens find it hard to get government photo IDs, because the underlying documentation like birth certificates (the ID one needs to get ID) is often difficult or expensive to come by. At the same time, voter ID policies are far more costly to implement than many assume. Instead, Improvements in voting technology and modernization of our voter registration system will both increase efficiency and close the door on mistakes and fraud.
To change my mind, someone is going to have to change that balance. Convince me either that the incidence of voter fraud is much higher than what Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott finds or that the burden of stricter voter ID laws is less than what the Brennan Center says it is.

I admit the possibility that voter impersonation is rampant but so hard to catch that Abbott's prosecution numbers don't reveal it. But if that's true, there are ways to devise studies to measure it. Offer immunity in return for testimony against ringleaders. Conduct anonymous surveys. No matter how obvious it might seem to some that voter fraud is rampant, we should still demand evidence of it before adding new requirements for exercising such a fundamental right as voting.

Alternatively, there are ways to reduce the burden on legally eligible voters while still reducing the potential for fraud. Put more burden on government to distribute the required voter IDs. Grant waivers in hardship cases. Modernize voter registration using technology to permanently register every eligible voter in America.

I can get behind many of these efforts to study our voting system, to reform our voting system, to ensure the right to vote is not infringed while voting fraud is made more difficult to commit. What I can't get behind are new requirements for voter ID that impose significant burdens on many, thus suppressing more legal voting than they prevent voter fraud. The balance is just not right.

1 comment:

glbeach said...

Call me cynical, but I believe this law will do exactly what the majority in Austin designed it to do - disenfranchise voters they believe vote for the competition. As commentator George Will opined in a column many moons ago, the G.O.P. has a higher win rate when the voter turnout is small. So, the G.O.P. can call it a 'voter fraud' law, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck . . .