Can we talk about Voter ID laws? Well, it’s my blog so there isn’t much choice on your end. Either read or close the page.
So with the election coming up, we once again run into the issue of voter ID laws. Especially since North Carolina got shut down when it came to implementing their ID laws. Whether or not you agree with the ruling, or you agree with the idea that the intent of North Carolinean legislators was racist won’t have too much bearing on this post. This post is designed with the intent to evaluate the idea of requiring identification to vote. To be clear: the intent of this post is to evaluate the claims made by both sides of the aisle in this issue.
The first question we must ask ourselves is ‘Why would you want to require identification to vote?’ The answer often stated is ‘To prevent voter fraud’. A typical response to this answer will normally be something along the lines of ‘In-person voter fraud happens so infrequently that it does not change anything’. So the argument would then be that it’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist yet. Another argument is that it unfairly punishes impoverished (and by extension, minority) communities since members of these communities are the least likely to have a driver’s license (because they don’t have a car). Going one step further, supposing that they are willing to obtain a driver’s license, that the DMV in their area is either closed or open so few hours during that week that even if they did have the money to drop on a license that they would have to take time off of work to do so. So this second argument is mostly about availability of ID on a person. The argument is whether or not the barrier to entry of ID is too high.
In-person Voter Fraud:
I don’t want to spend too much time on the in-person voter fraud (claiming to be someone that you aren’t) because I truly do believe that it happens so infrequently. Going in line to vote twice and pretending to be someone you aren’t the first or the second time seems like such a hassle for one extra vote (I’ll explain the significance shortly). Especially when it’s incredibly easy to verify that you are in fact not the person you are claiming to be. However, it’s a tricky issue to track. The United States has been around for about 200 years, over which we’ve had 100 elections or so. Electronic voting has been around for about 50 years (or about 25% of total elections).
As a computer science person, I find the idea of anonymous, electronic voting very scary for the integrity of my voting system. I find that super-double-extra scary when many voting machines are being run on proprietary code. Only the companies that run the machines really know the ins and outs of the code that runs the machines. A worker can easily rig the election within minutes. We also run into the issue of the ‘voter card’ (an electronic card you insert into the machine while you vote). It has been shown that you can vote 400 times (or more, I would imagine) with knowledge of the card being used. I assume that the same voting machines are used each year by the state, so with the knowledge of the machinery involved, I don’t think it’s unlikely that a person could tip the scales electronically. One thing that I’d like to note though, is that voter ID laws would only impact this second option. So instead of getting to cast 800 votes or more, you’d only get to cast 400. Of course, such a method is incredibly dangerous not only because the user can get found out easily, but because its usage is inherently its counter. Consider the following situation:
Goldville has 100 citizens. The Red party and the Blue party compete every year for the title of ‘Best Party’ decided by popular vote. Red party has a few members that find a way to cast more votes so they can bump the Red Party votes up a bit. Election day comes, the people vote, and the Red Party wins. But something’s amiss… only 69 people were recorded to have shown up at the polls but 81 votes were cast. Obviously there can be some human error in counting the people that have voted (we see this in caucuses all the time) but that’s a giant margin of error. Therefore, it would not be unreasonable to think that maybe foul play is at work here.
The moral of the story is: if you want to cheat, cheat smart. Tip the scales in your favor, but not so much as to reveal your hand.
‘Okay, so people aren’t voting twice, but what about dead people. I keep hearing this suspicion of dead people voting’. On Ballotpedia that (paraphrased) “as many as 2600 out of 77000 dead people have cast votes from the grave”. This would mean about 3.3% of dead people are casting votes. 2600 people, depending on dispersion should lie well within the margin of error. Of course, I am skeptical of the claim, and since the citation they use is dead, I have no idea what to make of the claim. However, there were a few other articles which claimed that hundreds of people are voting from the grave in California (as discovered by CBS), and that they do it consistently. However, like the 2600 out of 77000, this should lie within the margin of error. Am I saying that we should accept voter fraud if it lies within the margin of error? No, I am not. However, I am saying that if it lies within the margin of error and victories are beyond the margin of error, then they’re probably not swinging the state from red to blue (or vice-versa).
So I find the issue almost negligible, however that’s not to say that sensationalist sites haven’t muddied the waters. Remember, voter fraud is rather difficult to track, and writers for The Washington Post will often phrase things in such a way as to skirt the issues. They may use prosecution statistics to attempt to prove a point. This runs into the same issue that I ran into with my ‘Racist Cops’ post in which not all arrests lead to prosecutions and not all prosecutions lead to convictions. It’s a better place to start with crime statistics than prison populations because you can be in prison for years but an arrest is one and done. Inmate A may have committed the same crime as Inmate B but since Inmate B had a criminal record they received a longer sentence. Both inmates got arrested for the same crime though, so even though the prison population will fluctuate, the arrest numbers are more steady. Getting back to the statistics cited, a prosecution is the final phase of the process, so I personally find it a misleading statistic to use but it’s probably the second best that you could use (short of arrests). How can you definitively say ‘there were 100 fake votes’ short of there being 100 more votes cast than there were people that live in the area?
In short, I don’t think that voter ID laws would solve this problem of someone pretending to be someone that they aren’t. However, as we will see as we move into the next section, they would prevent certain individuals who shouldn’t be voting from voting.
Voting Requirements: ID
So I wanted an example of required ID to vote. I have selected Texas as my example. What identification is required to vote in Texas? I use Vote Texas as my source for obtaining these requirements.
- Texas driver license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS)
- Texas Election Identification Certificate issued by DPS
- Texas personal identification card issued by DPS
- Texas license to carry a handgun issued by DPS
- United States military identification card containing the person’s photograph
- United States citizenship certificate containing the person’s photograph
- United States passport
If you cannot provide any of the ID stated above, you would be required to sign a form stating why you were unable to bring the ID, and then you would be permitted to vote as long as you had one of these forms of ID:
- Valid voter registration certificate
- Certified birth certificate (must be an original)
- Copy of or original current utility bill
- Copy of or original bank statement
- Copy of or original government check
- Copy of or original paycheck
- Copy of or original government document with your name and an address (original required if it contains a photograph)
First, let’s look at the Acceptable ID list. One thing you’ll find in common with most everything in the list is that they are all issued by state entities. The Department of Public Safety covers pretty much everything except the last three items which are awarded to you by the Federal government. This consistency is important because there’s an implied state/federal regulatory process which (in theory) would be consistent. This is why I would personally find school ID unacceptable (by itself). Because the requirement to attend a school is not necessarily consistent across the state, nor are you assured to be a United States citizen if you attend a school. The supplementary ID also seems to be rather fair, but may hurt younger, unemployed individuals if they don’t have a voter registration certificate or a birth certificate.
The left will often consider the requirement of ID to be a kind of ‘Poll Tax’. Poll taxes are illegal (by the 24th Amendment). I don’t really like this argument from the left, mainly because I don’t know of any taxes that are optional. So you have the choice to get a driver’s license. You have the choice to get a carry license or a passport. If you fail to get any of these things and you don’t break the law by driving without license and so on, Uncle Sam will not come knocking on your door. Failing to pay taxes doesn’t come with those same outcomes. When I was working in Fairbanks, I was still considered a Pennsylvania resident. So the automation that took taxes out of my paycheck did not apply properly and when tax season came, I owed the state some $500 for taxes that I never paid. If I had failed to pay those, I would likely have received some unpleasant phone calls and some unfriendly visitors (putting it mildly). So in short, I don’t think the requirement to ID and the fact that some forms of ID cost money can in any way be called a ‘Poll Tax’. However, what I think doesn’t really matter, as I believe that some circuit in NC, Texas, or Kansas(?) ruled that it was.
In response to the ‘Poll Tax’ argument, I’ve often heard conservatives refer to some state ID that you can get for free. Surely if the ID is free it is no longer a tax! Well, I did some searching, and it looks like you can obtain some state identification card To receive it in Pennsylvania you need some forms of identification which for the same reasons I take issue with the supplementary ID for Texas (but I’m sure that can be smoothed out) but it also costs $30. Not even close to free. A Google search for a free state photo ID card often brought up Wisconsin sites. I assume Wisconsin has some form of voter ID law and with November fast approaching, the Winsconsinites want to make sure that they can participate in the process. As far as I can see on the page, it is free. I had suspected that it was because of voter ID laws, but since we also seem to have a requirement of state-issued ID in Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania ID was not free, that is not the case. So this “free state ID” argument fails in at least 2% of states, but I would hazard a guess that it fails in a few more. And I refuse to accept this premise of a “free” ID if it isn’t actually free. The ID may be free but the paperwork might not be seems like a poor excuse and a shift of the goalposts. If the entire process isn’t free, then it’s not a free ID.
This post has gotten quite long, so I’m going to split it here. What we’ve seen so far is that it may be unlikely that “free IDs” exist, and that supplementary voter ID may harm younger voters (Perhaps the 18-28 bracket) because they may not necessarily have their name on bills, or they may be unemployed. However, we also make the assertion that requirement to ID is not a tax (despite what the courts have said) because the government does not come knocking on your door if you fail to own a license. We see that if dead people were to vote, their votes are falling well within the margin of error. We see that if someone were to cheat by voting multiple times, it would likely not be by someone pretending to be someone that they’re not. Rather, they would probably take advantage of electronic voting. As such, the requirement to have ID to vote would not prevent voter fraud. However, it may be effective in preventing undocumented individuals from voting, which I think all of us can agree would be a pretty good thing. But is it worth requiring ID? In the next post, we’ll talk about the argument that focuses on DMV availability.