By Robert Schlesinger |
Liberal activists insist that voter fraud is a sham problem drummed up by conservative activists whose real intent—through voter identification bills and other anti-fraud measures—is to suppress voting by poor and minority voters who tend to vote Democratic. Yet their case is built on besides-the-point statistics and a large dose of hysteria.
Are we really supposed to believe that modest efforts to require identification at the polls are the equivalent of segregation-era poll guards designed to scare off minority voters?
The Brennan Center for Justice argued in a 2006 policy paper that voter fraud is "essentially irrational"—few voters are willing to risk large fines to cast an improper vote. The center finds that only an infinitesimal portion of votes cast are fraudulent.
Individuals no doubt rarely cast fraudulent votes. But as someone who grew up in Philadelphia, a city run by a political machine, it's clear that voter fraud isn't mainly an issue of individuals casting fraudulent votes but of highly rational political actors using their power to steal elections. Spread out across all elections, it is a small problem, on average—but it is a potentially huge problem in specific locales, where fraudulent vote schemes can swing elections. Voter ID laws are one way to begin battling that problem.
How critics of the anti-voter-fraud effort routinely ignore that reality is bewildering to me, except that they seem intent on downplaying the problem because voter fraud mainly benefits the politicians they support.
Public opinion polls show widespread public belief that fraud is a problem, so common-sense rules that require people to show an identification card at the polling place will also enhance voter faith in the electoral system. But the real question is what to do about the bigger, more orchestrated vote schemes that benefit from loosened voting standards.
"Coercion and chicanery are made much easier by the excessive use of absentee ballots. Most of the elections thrown out by courts—Miami, Florida's mayoral election in 1998, the East Chicago, Indiana's mayor's race in 2005—involved fraudulent absentee votes," wrote Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund. He notes that efforts to create same-day registration only make it easier for political hacks to game the system.
The real disappointment is that simple efforts to bolster the veracity of the election system have been caught up in partisan politics, which doesn't bode well for the future of that system.
About Steven Greenhut Vice President of Journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
Hans A. Von Spakovsky Manager of the Heritage Foundation's Civil Justice Reform Initiative
Vanessa Cardenas Director of Progress 2050 at the Center for American Progress
Howard Simon Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida