Over at The Monkey Cage, Henry Farrell reports on some really interesting political science (pdf) research, About as Many People Say They’ve Been Abducted by Space Aliens as Say They’ve Committed Voter Fraud. But that headline may give you the wrong idea; the research is very clever and shows that voter impersonation pretty much never happens.
Unlike other research that looks at allegations and prosecutions of voter fraud, this research just asked people. But given that it is a crime, they couldn’t just ask, “Have you ever committed this federal felony?” So what they did was create two groups and gave them a list of innocuous things that people do. But the test group had “voter fraud” added to it. All the people were asked if they had done any of the things listed. By comparing the two groups, they could tweeze out how many had committed voter fraud. The number came out to 2.5%.
That’s pretty high. So the researchers did the experiment again, but this time instead of testing for “voter fraud,” they tested for “abducted by extraterrestrials in the previous year.” And the percentage of people who claim they have been abducted by aliens is—Wait for it!—2.5%. It would seem that roughly 2.5% of the people who take these tests do not pay close attention. Or maybe we have a bigger problem:
The implication here is that if one accepts that 2.5% is a valid lower bound for the prevalence of voter impersonation in the 2012 election then one must also accept that about 2.5% of the adult U.S. population – about 6 million people—believe that they were abducted by extraterrestrials in the last year. If this were true then voter impersonation would be the least of our worries.
But there is a more basic issue here. I understand that political scientists need to test the claims of the voter ID proponents. But these activists are being totally disingenuous. Maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to make people show ID to vote. But if that were your actual concern, then you would go about it differently. If you must have ID to vote then the government must facilitate you getting an ID free of charge. Otherwise, it is like a poll tax. No one pushing for voter ID laws is at all concerned about voter fraud. Simply put: voter ID laws begin and end with voter suppression.
The authors of the paper note that as real as actual voter fraud may be, it is dwarfed by other problems in our voting system:
To give one idea of the scale: a review of allegations in the 2008 and 2010 elections in Texas found only four complaints of voter impersonation, out of more than 13 million votes cast, and it is not clear whether any of the complaints actually led to a prosecution. By contrast, the 2000 presidential election almost certainly was altered by poor ballot design in Palm Beach County, which resulted in at least 2,000 voters who intended to vote for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman casting their ballots for Pat Buchanan by mistake.
But we aren’t seeing any laws passed to deal with these kinds of problems. And that’s because voter ID laws are created to suppress the vote of Democratic leaning citizens. In future decades this will be as big a shame as the voter suppression leading up to the Voting Rights Act.
And please don’t tell me that those southern bigots were all Democrats. We all know that the big political shift over the 60s and 70s was those southern Democrats becoming Republicans. Southern bigotry has been the core of Republican victories from Nixon through Bush Jr. If the Republicans are going to use racial resentment to get elected, they should at least own it and not make out like they are still the party of Lincoln.