"We need voter ID laws, or else voter fraud will run rampant!"
Every single party that loses a close election claims it was all due to fraud. After all, it's just not possible that most people disagree with you or something. So when Election Day comes up in the U.S., the argument emerges that we should have some kind of voter ID system in place to make sure that our elections aren't fraught with illegal aliens, felons and multiple-voters stealing our democracy straight from under us.
Besides, they say, we already need a photo ID if we want to buy alcohol or cigarettes or goddamned Sudafed. It's certainly not too much to ask people to prove who they are before they choose the next president.
"Don't be silly, of course I'm really Brenda Fong."
But Actually ...
First of all, even though it seems like something you couldn't live without, 11 percent of Americans don't have any form of photo ID. Presumably they need to wear a fake moustache to buy beer. For most of us, our ID is our driver's license, and it's easy to forget that lots of people don't drive because they're elderly, disabled, too poor or just don't feel like it. But hey, 11 percent isn't that bad -- that's only about 21 million potential voters. Surely there's enough fraud in this country to warrant excluding them on Election Day, right?
Believe it or not, despite what many political commentators assume, voter fraud is virtually non-existent. And it's not because those who think the world will end if their candidate loses simply haven't considered trying it. Think about the risk versus the reward for someone who decides to cast an extra vote. The risk? A fine of up to $500 and possible jail time. For an illegal alien, deportation. And the reward? A single extra vote. Who in their right mind is going to take up those odds? It would be like stealing a single piece of candy, knowing that the punishment was watching nothing but C-SPAN for the rest of your life. It's the same for a party trying to organize wide-spread fraud to steal an election; think about the consequences of getting caught versus just spending the time and money on legit "get out the vote" efforts.
"But I'm sooooo lazy."
That's why nobody in their right mind does it -- a Justice Department review committee found virtually no evidence of any effort to skew federal elections. In reality, in only 1 out of every 15 million prospective voters can you find a case of such fraud. With 146 million registered voters in the United States, that's a whopping 10 cases in which voter ID laws would have stopped a crime. Not 10,000; just 10. That's probably not enough to swing the election for high school class president.
Compare that to 21 million potential voters who are disenfranchised by the same laws. For those of you playing at home, 21 million is a bit higher than 10. So it comes down to giving in to paranoia about a non-existent issue, or letting a significant portion of the population vote. Well this is America, land of the free, so we're obviously going to -- Aw fuck, turns out we're mostly going with paranoia.
Alex Race wants to be your friend on Facebook. Alternatively, you can send your hate-mail to him at email@example.com. Patrick McCarty co-stars as Paul Crane in The O.C. Club, a new webseries. And check out his story in Liquid Imagination.
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