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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Now We're Getting Somewhere

Jonah's update to his last post gets a bit closer to what I consider is the real issue. Jonah says "I don't think the burden of proof is on people who note the systematic assault on basic political rights by conservatives. I think the burden is on conservatives to show that their 'legitimate concerns' are about more than losing elections. In two comments and a full post, Peter has yet to appeal to any such evidence."

The largest piece of evidence of course is the bi-partisan commission's recommendation itself. Photo identification is clearly a response to questions of ballot integrity. What other possible explanation does Jonah have for why the commission recommended it?

Since I have neither the time nor the resources to do initiate my own commission to give Jonah the evidence he seeks, I'll turn to the relevant portion of the commission's report to shed further light on the subject, and let it speak for itself:

A good registration list will ensure that citizens are only registered in one place, but election officials still need to make sure that the person arriving at a polling site is the same one that is named on the registration list. In the old days and in small towns where everyone knows each other, voters did not need to identify themselves. But in the United States, where 40 million people move each year, and in urban areas where some people do not even know the people living in their own apartment building let alone their precinct, some form of identification is needed.

There is no evidence of extensive fraud in U.S. elections or of multiple voting, but both occur, and it could affect the outcome of a close election. The electoral system cannot inspire public confidence if no safeguards exist to deter or detect fraud or to confirm the identity of voters. Photo IDs currently are needed to board a plane, enter federal buildings, and cash a check. Voting is equally important.

The voter identification requirements introduced by HAVA [Help America Vote Act of 2002] are modest. HAVA requires only first-time voters who register by mail to show an ID, and they can choose from a number of different types of identification. States are encouraged to allow an expansive list of acceptable IDs, including those without a photograph, such as utility bills or government checks. These requirements were not implemented in a uniform manner and, in some cases, not at all. After HAVA was enacted, efforts grew in the states to strengthen voter identification requirements. While 11 states required voter ID in 2001, 24 states now require voters to present an ID at the polls. In addition, bills to introduce or strengthen voter ID requirements are under consideration in 12 other states.

Our Commission is concerned that the different approaches to identification cards might prove to be a serious impediment to voting. There are two broad alternatives to this decentralized and unequal approach to identification cards. First, we could recommend eliminating any requirements for an ID because the evidence of multiple voting is thin, and ID requirements, as some have argued, are "a solution in search of a problem." Alternatively, we could recommend a single national voting identification card. We considered but rejected both alternatives.
We rejected the first option — eliminating any requirements — because we believe that citizens should identify themselves as the correct person on the registration list when they vote. While the Commission is divided on the magnitude of voter fraud — with some believing the problem is widespread and others believing that it is minor — there is no doubt that it occurs. The problem, however, is not the magnitude of the fraud. In close or disputed elections, and there are many, a small amount of fraud could make the margin of difference. And second, the perception of possible fraud contributes to low confidence in the system. A good ID system could deter, detect, or eliminate several potential avenues of fraud— such as multiple voting or voting by individuals using the identities of others or those who are deceased — and thus it can enhance confidence. We view the other concerns about IDs — that they could disenfranchise eligible voters, have an adverse effect on minorities, or be used to monitor behavior — as serious and legitimate, and our proposal below aims to address each concern.

We rejected the second option of a national voting identification card because of the expense and our judgment that if these cards were only used for each election, voters would forget or lose them.

We therefore propose an alternative path. Instead of creating a new card, the Commission recommends that states use "REAL ID" cards for voting purposes. The REAL ID Act, signed into law in May 2005, requires states to verify each individual’s full legal name, date of birth, address, Social Security number, and U.S. citizenship before the individual is issued a driver’s license or personal ID card. The REAL ID is a logical vehicle because the National Voter Registration Act established a connection between obtaining a driver’s license and registering to vote. The REAL ID card adds two critical elements for voting — proof of citizenship and verification by using the full Social Security number.

The REAL ID Act does not require that the card indicates citizenship, but that would need to be done if the card is to be used for voting purposes. In addition, state bureaus of motor vehicles should automatically send the information to the state’s bureau of elections. (With the National Voter Registration Act, state bureaus of motor vehicles ask drivers if they want to register to vote and send the information only if the answer is affirmative.)

Reliance on REAL ID, however, is not enough. Voters who do not drive, including older citizens, should have the opportunity to register to vote and receive a voter ID. Where they will need identification for voting, IDs should be easily available and issued free of charge. States would make their own decision whether to use REAL ID for voting purposes or instead to rely on a template form of voter ID. Each state would also decide whether to require voters to present an ID at the polls, but our Commission recommends that states use the REAL ID and/or an EAC template for voting, which would be a REAL ID card without reference to a driver’s license.


The introduction of voter ID requirements has raised concerns that they may present a barrier to voting, particularly by traditionally marginalized groups, such as the poor and minorities, some of whom lack a government-issued photo ID. They may also create obstacles for highly mobile groups of citizens. Part of these concerns are addressed by assuring that government-issued photo identification is available without expense to any citizen and, second, by government efforts to ensure that all voters are provided convenient opportunities to obtain a REAL ID or EAC-template ID card. ... [T]he Commission recommends that states play an affirmative role in reaching out with mobile offices to individuals who do not have a driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID to help them register to vote and obtain an ID card.

There are also longstanding concerns voiced by some Americans that national identification cards might be a step toward a police state. On that note, it is worth recalling that most advanced democracies have fraud-proof voting or national ID cards, and their democracies remain strong. Still, these concerns about the privacy and security of the card require additional steps to protect against potential abuse. We propose two approaches. First, new institutional and procedural safeguards should be established to assure people that their privacy, security, and identity will not be compromised by ID cards. The cards should not become instruments for monitoring behavior. Second, certain groups may see the ID cards as an obstacle to voting, so the government needs to take additional measures to register voters and provide ID cards.

The needed measures would consist of legal protections, strict procedures for managing voter data, and creation of ombudsman institutions. The legal protections would prohibit any commercial use of voter data and impose penalties for abuse. The data-management procedures would include background checks on all officials with access to voter data and requirements to notify individuals who are removed from the voter registration list. The establishment of ombudsman institutions at the state level would assist individuals to redress any cases of abuse. The ombudsman would be charged with assisting voters to overcome bureaucratic mistakes and hurdles and respond to citizen complaints about the misuse of data.

The Commission’s recommended approach to voter ID may need to adapt to changes in national policy in the future. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, concerns about homeland security have led to new policies on personal identification. Under a presidential directive, about 40 million Americans who work for or contract with the federal government are being issued ID cards with biometrics, and the REAL ID card may very well become the principal identification card in the country. Driven by security concerns, our country may already be headed toward a national identity card. In the event that a national identity card is introduced, our Commission recommends that it be used for voting purposes as well.

Jonah observed in his post "maybe it [voter identification] does have merit. But why? What 'legitimate concern' does it solve? And, if it does solve this 'legitimate concern', is the cure worse than the disease?" I hope the above sheds light on both these questions.


Blogger Jonah B. Gelbach said...


1. if i'm right, you've been making your argument since before the commission's report came out. so your justification is ex post facto. that doesn't mean it has no merit, just that your argument appears to me to have started on flimsy ground (which is the nice version of saying "your original argument appears to me to have been made in bad faith", which was my initial reaction).

2. i don't expect you to start your own commission. how about just a little googling to find extensive evidence of fraud....oops, the commission's text that you cite says there isn't any. as for the rest of the rather....extensive....text you excerpt, i share your lack of time. if you can't bother yourself to make your own argument, don't expect me to do it for you by reading many pages of someone else's text. i did you the courtesy of marshalling evidence in my own voice---can't you manage the same? basically i regard your argument as largely nonexistent. if there's some greater evidence in the many pages you've cited, feel free to condense it in a useful-to-you way, and i will read that.

3. you still haven't addressed my point regarding costs and benefits, tho some of the bold text you provide does implicitly, by seeking to reduce the costs. i find that to be a useful and important contribution to this idea. i also regret that it seems to be lacking in cases like the Georgia law, which is so obviously meant to disenfranchise (!) poor, minority, and elderly voters.

4. you've also ignored the point i made about legitimate concerns: namely that there are multiple better ways to reform the election system than photo-IDs. that doensn't mean we shouldn't do photo-IDs, too. but it does make me wonder why you focus on photo IDs rather than those other things.

5. among the bold text is this:

Photo IDs currently are needed to board a plane, enter federal buildings, and cash a check. Voting is equally important.

just to stir up the pot: is owning a gun as important an issue?


9/28/2005 7:26 PM  
Blogger Bu$h Ate My Baby said...


From elsewhere in the report (don't fret, only three paragraphs):

While election fraud is difficult to measure, it occurs. The U.S. Department of Justice has launched more than 180 investigations into election fraud since October 2002. These investigations have resulted in charges for multiple voting, providing false information on their felon status, and other offenses against 89 individuals and in convictions of 52 individuals. The convictions related to a variety of election fraud offenses, from vote buying to submitting false voter registration information and voting-related offenses by non-citizens.

In addition to the federal investigations, state attorneys general and local prosecutors handle cases of election fraud. Other cases are never pursued because of the difficulty in obtaining sufficient evidence for prosecution or because of the low priority given to election fraud cases. One district attorney, for example, explained that he did not pursue allegations of fraudulent voter registration because that is a victimless and nonviolent crime.

Election fraud usually attracts public attention and comes under investigation only in close elections. Courts may only overturn an election result if there is proof that the number of irregular or fraudulent votes exceeded the margin of victory. When there is a wide margin, the losing candidate rarely presses for an investigation. Fraud in any degree and in any circumstance is subversive to the electoral process. The best way to maintain ballot integrity is to investigate all credible allegations of election fraud and otherwise prevent fraud before it can affect an election.

Sometimes a problem can't be boiled down to a "little googling to find extensive fraud." If there is a little fraud that tips a close election, isn't that bad enough? If there is a widespread perception of fraud, isn't that a problem that merits some type of redress?

So yes, I have been making this argument before the commission report came out. Yes, it relies on anecdotal evidence. Yes, it creates an impression in my mind that there is a problem. Do we need to go back to the 1960 election and Mayor Daley delivering Chicago for Kennedy? To reports of dead people voting, to reports of pets voting, to reports of fictituous addresses being used? You may quibble about the extent of the fraud, but I certainly hope you're not arguing that there is no evidence of fraud in elections in this country.

The whole point of my original blog was to point out that an independent, bi-partisan commission finds that electoral fraud is an important issue. That's why I quoted from the text. I should have excerpted more, perhaps, but I wanted to give people the benefit of seeing what the report had to say. I bolded particularly interesting passages, including some that could be argued not to fully support my prior arguments, in the interest of full disclosure.

On the cost/benefit, an important question. Heck, I think a lot of reforms should be made. Move elections to Sunday so more people can vote without taking time off work. Dip people's finger in purple like in Iraq -- doesn't address mail-in fraud, but it would give people comfort.

Which goes back to an earlier point. There can be a difference between impropriety and the appearance of impropriety. What's worse? If a sizeable percentage of the American people think there is fraud in elections, then do something to remove that doubt. Even if you see that as a reduced "benefit," the cost of doing what the commission is recommending is commensurately low.

Why photo IDs? I focus on it because it makes a lot of sense to me. If we have a national identity card, it will be very easy to link that ID up with a voter registry. Seems like one-stop shop.

On guns, well, you don't know my position as we've never discussed it. As far as I'm concerned, I'd be happy to repeal the second amendment. Until we do, then I think we have to live with its consequences, whatever those may be. And my personal reading of the second amendment would narrowly construe it.

9/29/2005 12:05 PM  

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