NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Maybe you’ve heard this argument against voter I.D. It’s a very small problem. The number of voter-fraud prosecutions in Wisconsin isn’t much – a dozen or so after each election.
You can imaging the retort: a running total of prosecutions is bound to be lower, probably much lower, than the actual number of times a crime is committed. No one knows how many fraudulent ballots are cast. And there are some disturbing cases – like in Troy, New York were eight elected officials and political operatives were charged in a massive voter-fraud case. How many other communities have similar problems?
I think the strongest argument is this: just because a crime is committed infrequently doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take steps to stop it. Thank goodness Marathon County has only one or two homicides a year. Bank robberies can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Car theft isn’t unheard of, but is still rare. No one would make the case that our violent crime laws should come off the books just because they’re infrequently violated. Why should voter ID be different?
Instead we were greeted this week with another court injunction blocking Wisconsin’s voter ID law. The issue is actually a balancing act between two competing assumptions. On the one hand is someone who might be wrongly turned away at the polls. On the other hand is a voter who casts their ballot only to have it cancelled out by someone else who votes fraudulently. The court injunctions give 100-percent full weight to the first person, and give zero consideration to the second. This is understandable, but it’s also wrong. The first scenario has a concrete victim who has a grievance. Joe Smith went to the polls. He’s a legal U.S. citizen who’s eligible to vote. He didn’t have proper ID and couldn’t meet the identification requirements, so he was turned away. We can easily identify the problem; someone’s been disenfranchised. The other side of the coin is vague, but no less legitimate. Tim Jones commits election fraud and votes twice. He isn’t caught. So whose vote did he just cancel out? Mine? Yours? Someone else? We can’t identify the victim; indeed all of our votes are cheapened when they are mingled with ballots that should not have been cast.
In my example, why do the courts instinctively side with Joe Smith? They should side with everyone else. Joe Smith has a way to solve his issue. He can get proper identification. Even if it’s hard or inconvenient (and it isn’t), he can make himself whole and undamaged without seeking the court’s help. But you, me, everyone whose votes are watered down have no way to redress our grievances. My vote counts less each time the ballot box is stuffed. My only fix is to keep those phony ballots from being cast in the first place. Voter integrity laws – like showing identification – are the only cure.
Eventually voter ID will come up for Supreme Court review. I’m cautiously optimistic the law will stand. But the wheels of justice are slowly, and the lower courts don’t always get it right.