Does voter fraud sometimes happen in the United States? You bet. But we are dealing with this relatively small problem in an irrational and partisan way. In a 1996 primary in Dodge County, Ga., rival camps for county commissioner set up tables at opposite ends of the county courthouse and bid for voters’ absentee votes in what a county magistrate later called a “flea market” atmosphere. Recently, officials in Cudahy, Calif., admitted intercepting absentee ballots and throwing out ballots not cast for incumbents. Every year we see convictions for absentee ballot fraud. Not a lot, but enough to know it’s a problem. So you might think that Republicans, newly obsessed with voter fraud, would call for eliminating absentee ballots, or at least requiring that voters who use them show some need, like a medical condition. But Republicans don’t talk much about reining in absentee ballots. Eliminating them would inconvenience some voters and would likely cut back on voting by loyal Republican voters, especially elderly and military voters. If only Republicans would apply that same logic to voter-identification laws. The only kind of fraud such ID laws prevent is impersonation: a person registered under a false name or claiming to be someone else on the voter rolls. I have not found a single election over the last few decades in which impersonation fraud had the slightest chance of changing an election outcome — unlike absentee-ballot fraud, which changes election outcomes regularly. (Let’s face it: impersonation fraud is an exceedingly dumb way to try to steal an election.)
Pointing to a few isolated cases of impersonation fraud does not prove that a state identification requirement makes sense. As with restrictions on absentee ballots, we need to weigh the costs of imposing barriers on the right to vote against the benefits of fraud protection. Consider Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law, now before the courts. The state conceded that it knew of no instances of impersonation fraud. A top election official did not know how the law worked and played down official estimates that more than 750,000 Pennsylvania voters lacked photo ID, and that an additional 500,000 appeared to have expired ID’s. The law gives dangerous discretion to local officials to decide which ID’s should be acceptable. Pennsylvania is a symptom of a partisan system gone wild. Republicans say they want to get rid of fraud, but they want to get rid of only some kinds — using remedies that are likely to at least modestly depress Democratic turnout.
While Republicans have been more to blame than Democrats, partisanship runs both ways. Democrats reflexively oppose efforts to deal with ineligible voters casting ballots, likely out of fear that the new requirements will make it harder for casual voters supporting Democrats to cast a ballot. They have adamantly opposed the efforts of Florida and other states where Republican election officials want to remove noncitizens from the voting rolls. Noncitizen voting is a real, if small, problem: a Congressional investigation found that some noncitizens voted in the close 1996 House race in California between Robert K. Dornan, a Republican, and Loretta Sanchez, a Democrat, but not enough to affect the outcome. Unlike impersonation fraud, noncitizen voting cannot be dismissed as a Republican fantasy.
Full Article: Voter Fraud and Manipulation of Election Rules – NYTimes.com.