Monday, August 20, 2012

Voter ID Laws Made Simple

To understand the voter ID laws currently being proposed and implemented in many states, it's important to first understand the problem: Voter fraud. Voter fraud is, essentially, any effort to rig the election in order to make sure it doesn't represent an accurate total of votes from the citizens of the country in question, usually to the benefit of the fraudster.

Voter fraud takes two basic forms. The first is the casting of additional ballots for one candidate that are not legitimate, inflating the total number of votes for that candidate to give them an edge. (Known as "stuffing the ballot-box" in some circles, as the oldest and most primitive form of the practice involved literally shoving fake ballots into the boxes used for counting.)

The second is the denial or destruction of legitimate votes cast for one's opposition, in order to artificially deflate the vote totals against the fraudster and give them an edge. Sometimes this is done through literal destruction or shredding of ballots, but most often it takes the form of erecting a (literal or metaphorical) fraudulent barrier to voting. For example, a fraudster might circulate a flyer among their opponent's supporters stating an incorrect time or place for polling, hoping to fool those supporters out of casting legitimate votes.

Currently, Republicans are claiming that the best way to prevent voter fraud of the first type (illegal additional ballots cast) is to erect a (metaphorical) barrier to voting, in the form of stringent requirements for voter ID. These requirements are estimated to prevent somewhere in the neighborhood of three thousand times as many legitimate votes from being cast as they will stop illegitimate votes from going through. (Depending on which estimates are used. Some estimates suggest that the number may be as high as thirty thousand, not three thousand.) Coincidentally, these legitimate ballots generally belong to demographic groups that vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

So to make it very simple: Republicans are currently insisting it's better to commit voter fraud 30,000 times over in ways that benefit them than to stand by and allow 10 cases of voter fraud that may benefit their opponents...or them.

What's complicated is why anyone believes these crooks anymore.


Anonymous said...

My father grew up in an era that ballot box stuffing was a reality. To allow someone to vote without some kind of check would have appalled him. I have to show an i.d. to cash a check at my own bank, but you want me to be able to vote by just giving my name? What are you saying about the importance of the vote?

Loyd Jenkins

magidin said...

Ballot box stuffing is different from in-person voter impersonation. ID checks can only prevent in-person voter impersonation (stuffing ballot boxes means having votes put in the ballot box that do *not* correspond to votes cast); you can stuff ballot boxes with voter ID laws, in the sense that if you are willing to have people add votes to the box, why aren't they willing to assign those votes to voters who did not show up? Voter ID laws can only stop in-person voter impersonation (whether it is fictitious voter registration, or someone else casting a ballot in a person's name). They don't stop fake registrations. They don't stop fraudulent registration (registering someone in several places). And these kinds of frauds are so rare that most states that have enacted voter ID laws cannot even point to any instances of them! Studies show that they number less than 500 individual instances over the last 12 years (without the ID laws). Now, I wonder: how would your father feel about having votes "counted" by a secret algorithm with no paper back-up, with machines that were built and programmed by the co-chair of the committee to re-elect one George W. Bush?

Anonymous said...

I think we're saying that it's more important to count the legitimate votes of 30,000 of the poorest and most vulnerable Americans than to spend millions of taxpayer dollars preventing up to 300 cases of false representation. And I think your dad would agree.

RichardAK said...

Is there any proof for these numbers? For this claim that far more people will be wrongly denied their right to vote than will be rightly prevented from voting? On what are you basing these numbers?

Magidin, what were these "studies"? Who performed them? What were their methodologies? And does the fact that states that have enacted voter ID laws cannot point to any instances of wrongful voting, if true, mean that wrongful voting does not exist, or that voter ID laws are effective at curtailing it, or that there are simply no such records in the first place because cases are either not detected or not tracked?

magidin said...

@RichardAK: The studies were reported to the Court in the recent Pennsylvania case (where the Government admitted that they had ZERO evidence of any in-person fraud in Pennsylvania, and no reason to believe that if the law were suspended while litigation occurs, that any in-person fraud would occur during the election). But here are some links to get you started: a study by Carnegie-Knight found 10 cases total in 2000 (about one case per 15 million registered voters); Pennsylvania saying it has no information and no knowledge of any voter impersonation fraud:; and information about the one alleged study claiming voter id laws protect minorites (authored by a man convicted of corruption, accepting bribes as a staff member of Dick Armey, and exchanging political favors for gifts): In an NPR interview, the proponent of the Pennsylvania ID law claimed he knows someone who knows someone who went to vote and claimed someone had voted in his name (can you say "urban legend"), and that it's not up to him to prove that impersonation occurs. The studies cannot establish that "voter ID laws are effective at curtailing [in-person voter impersonation]" because such laws did not exist during the times studied (I'm sorry, but that's rather disingenous of you to ask, unless you are insinuating that I am too dumb for words; citing a study made after a law is passed as argument that the law did not need to be passed? I'll leave that to idiot congressmen from both parties, thank you very much)

magidin said...

I will also point out that there are voter ID laws and then there are voter ID laws. Pennsylvania, Texas, and South Carolina's are particularly burdensome for rural and poor voters; and then there's Virginia's law, which allows for a wide range of identification materials, and provides for the State to mail an acceptable identification upon request by a registered voter. Virginia's law removed a number of ways in which people had been allowed to identify themselves to vote (signing an affidavit, for example). I'm far more inclined to think that laws like Virginia's are actually trying to make things clearer and more honest, whereas laws like Pennsylvania which requires an ID from a very specific set, and requires that it be issued at least 90 days prior to the election (having passed the law about 120 days before the election; curiously, 90 days is about the time that campaigns traditionally gear up voter registration drives) do smell like voter suppresion to me.

magidin said...

Finally: "I have to show an i.d. to cash a check at my own bank." Cashing a check is a priviledge; you have a bank through a contractual agreement between you and the bank. Nobody forces you to accept checks. You do not have a right to cash checks. But you do have a constitutional right to cast your vote and have it count.

Anonymous said...

Want to know why I think PA, at least, is definitely passing voter ID laws in order to throw the election? This is one of the guys who helped pass it.