Voter ID Regulations: Real Problem; Wrong Solution


A voter ID law Texas wants to implement is under review today in federal court. USA Today provides the details:

If you don't feel disenfranchised yet, just wait until you read the ballot.

In the lawsuit Texas v. Attorney General Eric Holder, the state asks the court to approve its law requiring that voters produce a government-issued photo card, and also asks the court to strike down a section of the Voting Rights Act that requires states with a history of voter discrimination to get approval for new voter plans. Student IDs are not accepted under the Texas law.

Texas is one of the states required under the Voting Rights Act to have new voting laws cleared in advance by the Justice Department. In March, the federal agency struck down the 2011 Texas law, saying that based on Texas' own data, more than 600,000 of the state's registered voters lack a driver's license or ID card issued by the state's Department of Public Safety and a disproportional amount are Latino, the [Fort Worth] Star-Telegram reports. The Justice Department also maintained that providing free state cards from the public safety agency was not enough because 81 of Texas' 254 counties don't have offices, according to the news agency.

Texas Republicans say the law is necessary to combat voter fraud, while Democrats in the state say the requirement will block thousands of poor, elderly and minority voters from the right to vote. Republicans have said that if Democrats cast fewer votes, it's OK as long as the ID requirement did not target minority voters, the Star-Telegram says.

Some 30 states now require some form of ID in order to vote. There's not a whole lot of evidence that fraud at the polling place is a significant issue, at least not to a degree to justify a state law. The number is not zero, though. There have been a few real cases of voter impersonation. There's a huge logistics flaw, though, in that that a concerted widespread attempt at voter impersonation will often be found out when the real voter attempts to cast his or her ballot, which is exactly what happened in Fort Worth in May:

Hazel Woodard James, 40, is accused of arranging for her son—who was not a registered voter—to vote on behalf of his father. The incident reportedly came to light when the father showed up later in the day to vote in the same precinct, 1211, for which James is now running to be chairwoman.

Prosecutor David Lobingier said the indictment is the first case of election fraud in recent memory in Tarrant County.

"We want to ensure that our vote is sacred," he said. "We don't want people voting who are not entitled to vote. It should be sacrosanct."

Vote fraud is obviously very much a real thing. However, the fraud that needs to be addressed is happening long before votes are actually cast. The real fraud takes place in the registration process, it's a bipartisan affair, and arguably voter ID has nothing to do with the problem and won't fix it.

James O'Keefe and Project Veritas put up a video demonstrating some carefully planned out vote fraud through impersonation in North Carolina in May and is taking credit for their work resulting in the passage of voter ID laws. However, from watching their video, it's very clear that the problem is not that the "imposters" didn't have to provide identification. The problem is that the people they were posing as should not have been registered to vote in the first place:

I'm not trying to diminish their work at all. Anything that shines a light on the many bureaucratic malfunctions in the voter registration and retention process is a public good. I've spent many an Election Day taking phone calls from voters with confusing and baffling experiences at the polls with volunteer workers with inadequate training. The voting process in America is a complete mess.

Identification at the polls is not the problem, though. And if it were, certainly those who would be organizing such an effort would not be put off at the cost of having to spring for some fake IDs to complete the task. The real battle is in who gets put on the rolls, not in who shows up on Election Day.