When you weigh both sides of the arguments, the case for mandatory photo IDs at voting booths just doesn’t stack up.
The issue of voter fraud that is raised every election cycle has pretty much been debunked as a straw man argument yet will simply not go away because conservatives won’t allow it to die. It’s not that there hasn’t been some case examples that strengthen conservative views about voter fraud. However, if citing one or two examples of illegal action were proof positive that voter fraud was rampant in this country and directly impacting outcomes of most elections, then all the other in-depth research that counters such notions would be a waste of time. What objective person in their right mind looks at a few commentaries and studies and confers an absolute status on them?
I have read and watched supporters of this straw man argument for the last few weeks present their cases on editorial pages and blogs and have made what I have thought were logical and documented arguments that reasonably rebuff them. But like any ingrained belief, mere facts alone will not dislodge something so deeply held for so long. Yet here I go anyway to try to respond to this position simply because a blogger friend of mine has essentially challenged me to do so.
My friend, Kendrick McDowell on his blog, The Prince and the Little Prince, feels that he has sufficiently proven that getting people to apply for pictured IDs actually enhances the possibility that more people will vote and made the case that such IDs are necessary to strengthen election integrity. I’ll address this in a second but I think I should note that what Kendrick is doing here is what so many other supporters of these efforts do by proposing arguments that serve as end-around responses to the bigger question people like me pose – is voter fraud a serious enough issue to be concerned about and if so, is there any documented evidence that will convince rational people (those without a political agenda) that such fraud has altered the outcome on any election in favor of one candidate over another?
The answer to the first part is “no”, based on a study by the Brennan Center for Justice back in 2007 that I linked Kendrick to, exposing this straw man argument raised each election cycle and showed that a person is more likely to get struck by lightening than they are to fraudulently cast a public election ballot. The second part is “no” also because all of those claims of voter fraud have NEVER published anything other than their speculations and feelings about the outcomes of certain elections. As convincing as some of these arguments are, they are still, in the final analysis, nothing more than someone making biased assertions.
In briefing filed with the Supreme Court in the Crawford v. Marion County Election Board case, the State of Indiana and several of its allied amici again fail to justify Indiana’s photo ID law. They recite various examples of problems that the challenged law would not solve.
The briefs — submitted by the State of Indiana, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Attorney Generals of nine states, a national political party, members of Congress, various election officials, and several nonprofit organizations — contain more than 250 citations to reports of election problems.
But not one of the sources cited shows proof of a vote that Indiana’s law could prevent. That is, not one of the citations offered by Indiana or its allies refers to a proven example of a single vote cast at the polls in someone else’s name that could be stopped by a pollsite photo ID rule. SOURCE
Regarding the one academic study that Kendrick provided me by Jeffrey Milyo analyzing Indiana voters, it makes a good point that “voter identification reforms may … instill greater confidence in the electoral process among eligible voters, making them more willing to participate in elections.” My two concerns with this study however was did it account for two very important factors.
One, did it allow for population demographics, especially new voter populations. Two, did it take into consideration the social context of current political conditions that often impact voter interest? On the first concern it appears that Milyo covered his bases pretty good but left room for caveats. On the second issue, he failed to address the emotional concerns of voters that existed between the two election cycles he used in his study which were the election years of 2002 and 2006.
So let’s focus on this aspect that surely had to impact voter turnout. First let me point out that Milyo’s study not only showed a slight gain in voter turnout under conditions where voters were required to provide photo IDs (2%) but his study asserts that this voter turnout was slightly higher in those demographic areas where traditional Democratic voters dwell, based on ethnicity, income and age. His premise that I mentioned above how the integrity of the voting process was a perhaps the main factor because of photo ID requirements to explain this increase disregards the fact that voters were more energized to vote in 2006 than they were in 2002 for reasons not related to election integrity.
Within this 4 year period of time the Bush/Cheney administration had demonstrated a set of values that crossed the line with many voters regarding federal spending, war declaration and associations with corporate lobbyists. The view that was presented by the Bush campaign of 2000 as being a “compassionate conservative” and then later in 2002 following the 9/11 attacks as the one who invaded Afghanistan then Iraq as the defender of our national security had been diminished considerably by 2006 when it became apparent that his reasons for taking us to war were misleading and that his disregard for deficits were associated with his alliances with wealthy corporations.
Factor in also that the Democratic Party was vigorously engaged in getting out the vote during this period. Many people who did not vote or voted for the GOP in 2002 were now out in a force and changing their votes in 2006 to remove what they saw as a threat to their values. If there indeed were increases in voter turnout in those districts that were considered traditionally Democratic, this emotional factor would have been as much if not more a cause why these people would more likely vote in 2006 than they did in 2002, knowing full well they needed to offset the conservative majorities in Indiana that tend to exist in that state.
Now, is this indeed THE factor that explains Milyo’s 2% increase rather than his premise that election integrity had been enhanced with photo IDs? Maybe! But you cannot know the answer for sure based on Milyo’s study because he failed to factor it into his research. Can you honestly deny that this emotional factor did have an effect on turnout in 2006 where none existed in 2002? You would have to be disingenuous if you did.
Kendrick also provided examples of the Democratic legislative majorities in tiny Rhode Island enacting their own voter picture ID requirement and the comments of one black, Democratic Alabama candidate who supports picture IDs for voters as evidence that the integrity issue has more merit than it does. Such changes as the one in Rhode Island may be of more value in the future than now as I point out later in this essay. For the record, I’m not arguing against efforts to strengthen the prospects that validate a person’s claim that says he or she is who they are, especially when there is abundant evidence that such fraud exists.
But as I have already pointed out, that evidence doesn’t exist regarding election votes. To raise this straw man argument each election cycle with the intensity that conservatives do comes across more as a wedge issue tactic to distract voters from more serious concerns that need to be voted on like the corporate cronyism within our government; a pervasive issue that does more harm to democracy than the small incidences of recorded voter fraud.
When you take into consideration the other actions taken by Republicans operatives to “cut back on early voting, which has been popular among working people who often cannot afford to take off from their jobs on Election Day”, and gerrymandering districts to create populations unrelated in any other fashion than they tend to vote Republican, then a bigger picture emerges that gives credence to the claim that photo IDs for voters are just one more attempt by an ideological fringe to increase better results for conservatives.
I want to be clear too that I am not scoffing at those who see the need to enhance the integrity of the voting process. I’m all for elevating our electoral process to the highest standards. The fact that photo IDs will be made available free for those who don’t have one and who are cash strapped from unemployment and lowly fixed incomes removes a concern that some of us have for mandating this requirement. But this is only half of the problem for those who find it difficult to access those places that will provide these IDs. People who live on the margins and work hours and live distances that make it difficult to access locations where free photo IDS can be obtained tend to be poor minorities.
Yes, we all need to be held accountable to do what it takes to practice our rights as citizens. But despite this view there will always be those who procrastinate or who get the wrong information too late. They were eligible to vote in previous elections but now that the rules have changed that requires a photo, they are to be prevented from exercising their constitutional right, with only the hope that their provisional ballot they can still cast will be fairly assessed by the voting clerks who make such decisions.
And finally, let me offer a separate study about the effects on voter turnout regarding mandatory laws that require picture IDs. This one challenges the conclusions drawn by isolated studies like Milyo’s in Indiana that claim state laws that require pictured IDs to vote are innocuous. The 2009 study entitled Modeling Problems in the Voter Identification—Voter Turnout Debate by Professor of Political Science at Columbia University Robert S. Erikson and Lorraine C. Minnite, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Barnard College calls for a broader application of the limited research that’s out there at this time.
Additional elections and additional states enforcing strict voter ID laws will provide more and better data. Beyond that, we suggest a more detailed analysis not of survey turnout data, but of aggregate data within and between states. A more modest but still promising approach is to fall back on surveys of who has or does not have the kinds of identity documents mandated in recent voter identification legislation.
Until we have more experience with restrictive voter ID laws that are already on the books and, therefore, more data to analyze, survey findings and database matching showing thousands, perhaps millions of citizens lacking government-issued photo ID should raise red flags for policy-makers and voting rights advocates alike that these laws could prevent eligible voters from voting. SOURCE