Monday, April 9, 2012

Tenther on the Issues: Voter Identification

Recently, several States have passed into law Photographic Identification requirements for voting.  Proponents claim that this is necessary as a step to prevent voter fraud.  Opponents claim that it is discrimination- as it is minorities and the poor who are least likely to have Photo ID?  So where should Conservatives stand on this issue?

Let's address the major claim of the opponents- is a picture ID requirement discriminatory?  That is, does it specifically discriminate against any group or groups of citizens, thereby disenfranchising them?  To answer that, we have to look at how likely it is for a given person to have a photo ID.  To do that, let's take a look at some things that require, at least nominally, picture identification.

Among the things that people- notably the "poor" and "minorities"- do on a daily basis that require picture ID: purchase paint, purchase antihistamines, purchase alcohol, purchase cigarettes, purchase a firearm, go to a movie with an 'R' rating, drive, and open a bank account.  This is not an exhaustive list, but it does show that we expect, and even require, that minorities and "poor" already to have picture id for many things.  So, either all of these activities are "classist" or "racist," or we should be able to dispose of that little canard as it regards Voter Id.  Obviously no one things that going to the movies is racist, nor do they thing purchasing cigarettes or driving are are discriminatory.

Now, let's take a look at the proponent's claims- would picture identification really prevent voter fraud?  Would it even help prevent voter fraud?  Or is it, instead, just an extra piece of "red tape" which will be irritating to those who wish to go vote?

It is well known that obtaining a fake photo ID is not terribly difficult.  Depending on the money you're willing to spend, they're either of quality so bad you can see them a mile away, or they might be so good that the police wouldn't be able to tell the difference without actually running the ID.  Given that poll workers are unlikely to have formal training in spotting fake IDs, it would seem this would destroy the arguments of Voter ID proponents.  However, it misses something very important: barrier to entry.  That is, any sufficiently determined crook is going to be able to circumvent any amount of security you have in place.  However, putting barriers in their way at least limits those who are not sufficiently determined.

As an example: a sufficiently determined burglar will get into your house.  I don't care if you lock your doors and windows, have a security alarm, and a guard dog: a sufficiently determined theif will find a way into your home.  However, what all of those things do is take care of the people who are not so determined- who vastly outnumber those who are so determined.  The same is true of vote fraud.  The number of people willing to cast an illegal vote, if there is no barrier to entry, is much higher than than the number who are truly determined to cast fraudulent votes.  So voter ID, like a locked door on a house, is a barrier to entry.

Now, considering it's modest benefit, is it worth the cost- both in time and money?  Well, monetarily there is virtually no cost.  As pointed out above, to do many things that people do on a regular basis, you are already required to have a picture ID, which means the vast majority of people will not need to expend one penny to comply with the law.  Time is a different matter: poll workers will be requried physically to view everyone's picture ID, and the ones who are dilligent will spend a little extra time to check for any obvious signs of forgery.  This will add to the time it takes to get a ballot when you arrive at your polling location.  How much time?  Well, if it takes an extra ten seconds (including the voter presenting the id, and the poll worker checking it) for each voter, then after 6 voters, you've waited an extra minute.  If there are 60 people in line, the last one will have waited an extra 10 minutes, and so on. 

I am unable to find statistics to show how many voters are at a polling location at once, but let's say there were 100 people in line to vote.  The first person has to wait 10 extra seconds.  The second person has to wait 20.  The third, 30.  The fourth, 40.  By the 100th person, that person has waited 1000 extra seconds.  A whoping 16 minutes and 40 seconds.  When people are just dribbling in a few at a time, the extra wait is hardly noticible.  So, early in the day, you probably wouldn't notice the extra wait.  On voting day, after work (say, between 5 & 7) you'd have a fair wait. 

Is it worth the time (2000 votes at a single pricinct would be a pretty high number, and you're likely to see much of that dribble in through the day, but let's go for broke here, and say at one time you might have 2000 people all standing in line to vote- so, 33 minutes) to wait to vote?  Well, here we get to another barrier of entry- some people who would be able to cast legitimate ballots will choose not to do so if they have to wait that long.  They're going to be busy with life, and they won't want to stand around and wait to cast a ballot.

For me, this another positive to a voter ID law.  As someone who believes you should be both informed and engaged regarding political matters, the fewer "meh" voters involved, the better.  Just because you have the right to vote, doesn't mean it's right for you to vote.  Just as with any other Right, there is the counterbalancing responsibility- in this case to be informed and engaged.  Voter ID will help weed out, not only those who wish to commit fraud, but those who wish to exercise their Right without regard to the counterbalancing responsibility.  On the other hand, someone who has spent some time learning about the issues, or who is truly motivated about a given election, will sit through 30+ minutes of waiting because their vote is that important to them.

So now we have our information: wait time will usually be minimal, and at a time where the pricinct is positively overwhelmed will be a noticible, and possibly inconvenient, amount of time.  There is little or no cost to implement the policy.  It will help weed out votes which are undesireable- either because they would be fraudulent, or because they would not be based on good information and forethought.  Weighing all of that together, Voter ID is, generally speaking, a good idea.

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