Voter turnout in the US is abysmal, but predictably so. Turnout in winner-take-all style elections tends to be low across the world, because people are sensitive to the relative ineffectiveness of each marginal vote. When the difference between a 51 and 70% majority – or the difference between a 5 and 10% minority – actually affect the composition of the government, people respond and turn out in greater numbers.
Getting Americans to vote has for a long time been an uphill struggle – so it’s all the more troublesome when conservatives look for new ways to suppress turnout. One recent ploy are voter ID laws. While you and everyone you know probably has a driver’s license, passport, social security card and birth certificate, a fair number of the poor and old do not – and they’re especially burdened by having to obtain or replace such documents.
Voter ID laws arent like poll taxes – they are poll taxes: their imposition all but guarantees that a citizen will have to give money to a government agency, or be denied the right to vote. Even when ID cards are offered free of charge, documents needed to obtain them are not. And while $30 for transport and fees (a typical replacement cost) may not seem like much, it happens to be the average weekly Food Stamp benefit. For the elderly, the journey from the nursing home to the government office (or 2 or 3) may be a greater burden than the money. In either case, voter ID laws will cause legitimate voters to reasonably choose to not vote, simply because the cost is not justified by the benefit.
While there are several types of voter fraud, voter ID laws target just one kind – voter impersonation – which happens to be among the rarest. One DOJ study for the period 2002-05 found 26 convictions for voter impersonation – out of 197 million votes cast. That gives us a voter impersonation rate of .00000013. To get an idea of just how rare that is, the US in that same 2002-05 period had about 60,000 homicides. Put otherwise, the US voter impersonation rate per 100 million votes cast is 13 – while the US homicide rate per year per 100 million people is about 4800 – 370 times greater.
One look at the crime stats for voter impersonation, and the real purpose of voter ID laws becomes obvious. Their aim is to disenfranchise legitimate voters. And it’s no coincidence that practically every one of the 30+ states that have enacted some sort of voter ID law have done so with GOP legislatures and GOP governors. Voter ID laws dont prevent fraud – voter ID laws are themselves the fraud.