Friday, November 2, 2012

The Tortured Logic (or Evil Genius) of Voter ID Laws

A dedicated fraudster, malevolently determined to cast as many illegal votes as possible, could cast ten, perhaps fifteen votes by furiously driving around on election day and falsely registering, impersonating, or otherwise bypassing the controls currently in place which prevent in-person voter fraud. He would have a difficult time of it: waiting in line, producing falsified documents verifying his residence, filling out registration forms, and lying to the face of many election judges. His actions would be cause for serious concern, and if caught, he would face fines and penalties.

If that same fraudster used absentee ballots to commit fraud, however, he could cast hundreds, perhaps thousands of votes, while leaving a much smaller trail of evidence. Most ominously, if he had access to electronic voting machines, he could potentially change the outcome of multiple national contests and wreak havoc on the entire election system.

For a lone actor determined to commit fraud, the worst possible way to do it is in-person, election day voting. It is slowest way to manufacture votes and the easiest way to get caught, as each polling place is a potential point of failure. Given the limited number of votes he could successfully cast, the chance of this hypothetical person influencing an election at any level is almost nonexistent. Moreover, there is no evidence that anyone like him actually exists or has ever existed: nationwide, according to the most comprehensive study produced on the subject, in-person, election-day voter fraud happens about once per fifteen million votes cast. And yet, the Voter ID Amendment in Minnesota intends to stop this phenomenon at any cost.

I work on anti-money laundering and fraud prevention software for a bank. Here's an unspoken but obvious little secret: we don't spend a lot of time, money, and energy going after small time scams. It simply is not cost effective to do so. Any good business person will tell you that like any other investment or company resource, it is better to spend fraud investigation dollars where that money will make the most difference. Here's a fact: we know where election fraud happens. Doesn't it make more sense to invest in controls which would combat the fraud that actually influences elections?

Fighting in-person, election day fraud with Voter ID laws costs a lot of money to implement - perhaps millions of dollars. These laws have very limited impact, because they intend to combat the rarest and least effective form of fraud. Finally, these laws have the potential to disenfranchise many more voters than they catch. Judged using a cost-benefit analysis, Voter ID laws do not make any sense whatsoever.


...Voter ID itself is the fraud. Think about it: the law targets certain classes of voters: students, poor people, the elderly. It raises the difficulty level of voting for these groups - for some, high enough that they will not vote. Collectively, these demographics are far more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than Republican candidates. And unlike the rogue actor casting upwards of a dozen illegal votes, using Voter ID to raise the difficulty level of voting affects hundreds of thousands of people, numbers which could change the result of an election. As Pennsylvania House Republican Leader Mike Turzai so clearly says in his ill-advised moment of candor, Voter ID laws are very nakedly a partisan power play.

The vote is a free, anonymous, and Constitutionally granted right. Over the course of history, our country has worked to expand this franchise to everyone.  In Minnesota, we pride ourselves on high voter turnout and a transparent, open election process. Flying in the face of history, the Minnesota Voter ID Amendment seeks to change all of this - it contains few details, leaves many questions unanswered, and if it passes, it has the potential to destroy our widely praised system: there will be countless arguments in the legislature about its implementation as well as legal challenges over the amendment itself. Same-day registration could become a relic of the past. And all of this will be expensive. Is this how Minnesota should spend its limited time and resources - to combat a problem that happens about once in fifteen million votes? We should be very suspicious of this kind of tampering with the election system.

Vote No on Voter ID, Minnesota.

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