If there ever was a Sisyphean task, look at the continued efforts of state governments to ram through various incarnations of voter identification laws. At issue most recently is the State of Pennsylvania’s stricter voter identification requirement law passed in March of 2012 without a single Democratic vote. History shows that this type of legislation is typically passed by Republican majorities for no other purpose than purely self-serving for the Republican Party through the disenfranchisement of less economically able individuals.
Voter ID laws are generally passed passed under the guise of prevention of voter fraud, however, this argument has be demonstrated numerous times to be faulty. In the instance of the Pennsylvania law currently in the spotlight, lawyers for the State of Pennsylvania have openly acknowledged they could not point to any instances of voter fraud that the law is attempting to rectify.
A simple cost-benefit analysis reveals the reason that fraudulent voting activity isn’t prevalent. There are strong federal laws in place to deter voter fraud in all elections such that the costs of committing voter fraud (financial penalties and potential jail time) significantly outweigh the benefits to a rational voter (marginally increasing the vote count for their candidate).
What then, is the true purpose of these laws? The party behind “get out the vote” actions is typically the Democratic Party. There are significantly more Democrats than Republicans by party affiliation in the United States, a trend which is only anticipated to grow with the changing demographics of the country. The opposite of a get out the vote campaign is a “keep in the vote” campaign; i.e. figuring out ways to reduce the number of voters in the country voting with a Democratic Party affiliation. The easiest way to do this is to make it more difficult for poorer individuals to vote via an obfuscated poll tax (in the case of voter ID laws, while the cost to individuals may be negligible, the additional labor efforts to comply with the requirements act as a semi-effective deterrent to voting).
In fact, Bernard Siskin, a statistical expert, testified of the new Pennsylvania law that about 511,000 registered voters lack the new IDs required. While this should not be construed as the ultimate number of voters that would be disenfranchised by implementing the law, it is a staggering figure. A more accurate study of the effect of voter ID laws was documented by Shelley de Alth in her expose “ID at the Polls: Assessing the Impact of Recent State Voter ID Laws on Voter Turnout” in the Harvard Law & Policy Review.
Shelley notes that “Nonphoto ID laws are associated with a 2.2 percentage point decline in turnout, and photo ID laws are correlated with a 1.6 percentage point decline” (she explains the rationale for the unintuitive declines as due to timing of voter ID laws passed and implemented). These are significant declines in voter turnout and should reprehensible to any democracy-loving U.S. citizen.
I sincerely hope that our court system continues to strike down these abominable voter ID laws. The Republican Party often has good ideas to offer the public including lower taxes along limited federal government, strong states’ rights policies, and free market policies including limited tariffs and sensible amounts of government regulation, but voter ID laws are patently absurd, and more so once dissected. This needs to stop.
Voter registration requirements by state can be found here.
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