Federal courts have now ruled that Texas lawmakers acted with racial animus when they passed the Texas voter ID laws. Efforts to soften the law have so far not allowed it to pass constitutional muster. Should the voter ID law be changed? And if so, how?
The proponents of voter ID laws claim that it is essential that we secure the ballot box. However, with a 5.81% voter participation in our Texas Constitutional election I guess I am just curious who we are securing the ballot box from. At this point maybe we should extend suffrage to all those under the age of 17, family pets, house plants?
In all seriousness, the lack of voter participation is a much greater stain on our modern democracy than hypothetical voter fraud. On the campaign trail, I extend this to constituent engagement, beyond simply voting. I extend this to engagement because policy fraud is a much bigger problem in our modern politics, and policy fraud perpetuated by politicians and high dollar donors, can only be combated with a higher level of constituent engagement.
Starting with voter fraud, what I think we can all agree with is that the process to get on the voter rolls is pretty clean. There is a process to check citizenship, Voter registrars check your driver’s license or the last 4 digits of your social security number. If you don’t meet that check, then registrars flag your voter number and you will have to show appropriate ID, which brings you back into a process of showing citizenship. Keep in mind this was the process before the new voter ID changes. So from a citizenship perspective alone, voter rolls should be clean.
So the fraud theory is that some devious actor(s) would look at our voter rolls, figure out who is likely not to show up, print fake voter registration cards or IDs, recruit teams of individuals to go to certain precincts on election day or early voting sites and vote multiple times as different individuals. I think it is safe to say that under the old system there is a way to fraudulently vote, however, is it wide spread or practical? Further, is the current strategy for deterring this behavior the best. So let’s consider what enables even the possibility of fraud. Remember, to get away with this you would have to scour the voter rolls to figure out who isn’t coming to vote. To the extent that only 59% of voters vote in the big elections, the opportunity for fraud is created by those 41% on our voter rolls who don’t vote. To put this differently if everyone voted, then these mythical devious actors would have no opportunity to show up and try to vote as someone else, without being found out quickly. So expanding voter participation actually reduces fraud, yet you rarely hear that as a solution to fraud. The truth is, some political operatives prefer you actually don’t vote and they definitely don’t want you engaged. So what are possible solutions? Maybe we have to create a reverse poll tax; we tax you if you don’t vote. Alternatively, perhaps a voucher to be used for sales tax can be given at the polls. So why do I think this may be valid? Because if we truly believe that democracy is by the people and for the people, then it can only survive as an institution with the people (participating). As an example, if we had a company that had a board of directors and those board of directors never showed up, they would quickly be removed. Democracy requires participation, so we need to keep working on ways to expand participation, and while we should not have to “compel” people to vote, we should not keep such strategies off the table. We have no problem requiring insurance to protect our public from the costs of automobile incidents. We should not have trouble requiring participation to protect our most sacred institution, Democracy.
On a final thought in this area, I think we need to keep evaluating the security of our physical voting systems to ensure that if focused on digital technology, they remain secure. As investigations continue into our 2016 elections, I believe reflecting on standards and specifications for these systems will be critical.