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Voter Fraud & The Risk That Drives Us

Posted on March 8 2011 12:00 pm
Walter Hudson is a political commentator and co-founder of Minnesota's North Star Tea Party Patriots, a statewide educational organization. He runs a blog entitled Fightin Words. He also contributes to True North, a hub of Minnesotan conservative commentary. Follow his work via Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
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What would you say if I told you the locks on your doors were a waste of time and money? After all, if you’re like most people, no one has ever unlawfully entered your home. In fact, there’s little evidence that anyone has ever tried. So why do you waste time installing and utilizing those silly deadbolts?

If that argument sounds ludicrous, which it should, realize it is precisely the same argument being utilized by opponents of photo identification and other sensible election integrity measures being pursued by Republican controlled legislatures throughout the union. The Washington Post reported on the debate Monday. The article highlighted arguments akin to you should not lock your doors because no one has tried to get in.

For all the allegations of voter fraud, Democrats and voting rights groups say, there is scant evidence to show that it is a problem(…)

“Election policy debates like photo ID and same-day registration have become so fierce around the country because they are founded more on passionate belief than proven fact,” said Doug Chapin, an election-law expert at the Pew Center on the States. “One side is convinced fraud is rampant; the other believes that disenfranchisement is widespread. Neither can point to much in the way of evidence to support their position, so they simply turn up the volume.

Chapin’s observation accepts as valid the argument that evidence of voter fraud is necessary to justify measures to prevent it. Opponents of election integrity frequently begin with that argument, stating that efforts to secure the vote are a solution looking for a problem. However, the same could be said of any security measure.

Any industry professional will tell you that good security is proactive rather than reactive. The objective of a security plan is to detect and deter violators. The demonstrable ability to detect often serves to deter. If someone who would do you harm trips a motion-controlled light or spots a prominent security camera, they are likely to think twice about intruding further.

If such a person were to trip that light, see that camera, and think better of intruding, would you ever know about it? Most of the time, the answer is no. The expense of security is not justified by its measurable effect, but through an evaluation of risk. The question is not whether someone has unlawfully entered your home, but how easily they could. That evaluation, balanced against the value of convenience over protection and ability to bear cost, determines whether you buy the light, the camera, and the deadbolts for your doors.

On some level, opponents of election integrity understand these incentives. It informs one of their modes of attack.

Opponents are also using a tea party twist – cost – to try to defeat the bill.

States that require voter IDs also must be willing to pay for them, the result of a court ruling that declared part of Georgia’s ID law unconstitutional because people lacking IDs would have to pay for cards themselves – creating, in effect, a poll tax. A legislative analysis shows the Wisconsin measure would cost the state $2.7 million a year.

You will find that many of the folks complaining about the cost of securing elections advocate for reckless spending in other areas. They apparently value such spending above ensuring each vote is rightfully counted.

Of course, whether anything is worth its cost is always a subjective judgment. We can have that argument. However, let’s not pretend that the cost of a Voter ID law must be justified by evidence of massive voter fraud. Voter ID is justified by the vulnerability of an election system.

Election integrity ought to be the quintessential non-partisan issue. Every honest voter has a vested interest in ensuring their vote counts and is not diluted or cancelled out by the fraudulent activity of others. Requiring evidence of rampant fraud prior to securing our election system is like requiring evidence of rampant unlawful entry before locking your door at night. As rational creatures, we take sensible measures to secure our person, property, and loved ones to reduce the risk of harm. Likewise, as rational citizens, we ought to take sensible measures to secure our full undiluted vote.

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