There are three inducements of support that Americans are powerless against: the promise of whiter teeth, the suggestion of no-diet weight loss and the cause of justice. Political campaigns tend to couch their appeals in terms of the last, though parts of the Romney-Ryan economic pitch could be described as the second. In today’s truly divisive debates, both parties have usually engineered a rhetorical claim to the side of fairness: gay rights advocates propelled themselves forward when they began to argue for “marriage equality” against the outdated complaint of “special rights”. Americans rankle at unearned privileges as much as they rally, in the main, to equality. Hence the widespread, enthusiastic support of voter ID laws (they poll with about 75% in favor) makes total sense if you see the laws exactly the way their authors and promoters talk about them – as barriers to voter fraud. After all, voter fraud is when criminals unfairly manipulate voting, the most basic expression of fairness available in a democracy.
Asking Americans if they support measures against voter fraud is like asking if they support measures against adults suiting up for Little League baseball. The problem is that there are probably more cheaters in baseball than voting: a recent analysis found cases of alleged voter fraud running about one for every 16,000 voters. What’s more, voter ID laws work in such a way that a no-adults-in-Little-League equivalent would ban not just grownups from playing, but also anyone who looked adult-ish and didn’t show up for practice with documentary evidence of minor status.
The metaphor breaks down pretty quickly, however, and not just because a tall-person-free Little League might wind up still being a decent pastime for those involved (the tall people could play elsewhere). In real-life democracy, there is no farm team. You either get to play or you don’t. What’s more – as American as playing baseball is – it’s not a legal right.