Politics and Pragmatism

During lunch today I was reading an article about ballot access and voter fraud in the US. Reading it made me remember a time I actually changed my mind about a political issue. And my change wasn’t based on a change in my politics or being convinced by one party or another. It was a simple matter of understanding and practicality.

You see, I used to be in favor of voter ID laws. In principle, I still am. It has always seemed odd to me. When I go to my polling place to vote, they ask for my name. After looking it up in their registered voter book, they ask me to sign, allow me to vote, then ask me to sign out when I leave. At no point does anyone ever make an attempt to verify that I am who I say I am. Literally anyone could walk in, give my name, and vote in my place. It only makes sense to me that they would ask me to prove who I am to vote. I could simply show my state-issued driver’s license.

But as I discussed this with friends who didn’t share my views, I got a different perspective. Not everyone who is eligible to vote has a driver’s license. Also, people who are poor and have to work a lot may not have time or money to get some other form of ID for voting. My thought was that one could be issued at no charge. That solves the cost issue but not the time it takes to get it. While all of that did start to make me questions my firm stance in favor of voter ID laws, it isn’t what changed my mind.

It was a simple matter of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” You see, voter fraud is very rare. Lot’s of people claim that the relatively small number of prosecutions and convictions of voter fraud is just the tip of the iceberg. But there is little to no evidence to support this. Most cases of voter fraud are simple mistakes or misunderstandings. One law professor at Loyola Law School reported finding only 45 cases of voter impersonation since 2000 out of more than a billion and a half votes cast. Hardly something worth spending millions of tax payer money on or disenfranchising voters over.

So I no longer actively advocate for voter ID laws. If there should come to light evidence of actual cases of voter fraud in a volume approaching enough to alter elections results, then I would probably change my mind. But while the existing system is actually working, I see no just cause for making it more difficult for people to exercise their right to vote.

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