Let me start off by saying: I have never committed voter fraud, nor encouraged anyone else to do so. I have, however, spent a lot of time familiarizing myself with voting laws in North Carolina. The General Assembly has announced its intention to create a new law requiring every individual voting in person to show ID each time they vote. Right now, they’re haggling over which IDs will be accepted and which will not. Student IDs? Driver’s licenses from other states? Bank statements? Handgun licenses? What types of identification are deemed acceptable will make a big difference in how many North Carolinians will have to acquire a new form of ID—and how many prospective voters will turn around and go home because they were confused about what they needed to bring. If you’re a Duke student who wants to vote in the 2014 senate election, it’d be a big pain in the butt to get an ID card made at the Durham DMV, but you’d likely be able to figure it out, assuming you could catch a ride off campus. If, like many elderly North Carolinians from rural counties, you were born at home and were never issued a birth certificate, getting the necessary ID could literally require hundreds of miles of travel and months of advance planning. Voter ID laws purportedly exist to prevent voter fraud, but not all types of voter fraud. Voter fraud comes in many flavors: throwing away someone else’s voter registration form, selling your vote, intimidating voters, voting in two states or voting if you’re not eligible to vote, among others. Voter ID laws would, at best, prevent one very specific type of voter fraud: a person showing up to a polling location pretending to be someone they’re not.
Let’s say a North Carolinian, we’ll call her Susie, intended to vote on behalf of somebody else—maybe Susie is trying to vote illegally on behalf of her deceased neighbor, Carol. A voter ID law would effectively prevent Susie from showing up to her neighbor’s polling place and trying to vote on Carol’s behalf.
A voter ID law would not prevent Susie from sending the Board of Elections a letter in Carol’s name requesting that Carol’s absentee ballot be mailed to whatever address in the world Susie wanted—perhaps Susie’s own address or perhaps even an address in Botswana if Susie were on vacation. Without ever showing ID, Susie could then cast a ballot on Carol’s behalf and mail it back to the Board of Elections. It prompts the question: Why would Susie ever fuss about going to Carol’s polling place to vote illegally if she could just vote illegally for Carol with an absentee ballot, never leaving the comfort of her own home?
Passing a law requiring voter ID in order to prevent voter fraud is like passing a law banning apples in order to prevent people from smoking marijuana. Sure, you can smoke pot out of an apple bong (or so I’ve heard on the bus), but banning apples would do very little to impact the ease with which a would-be stoner could light up. More importantly, a ban on apples would be an enormous nuisance to the millions of people who like apple pie, applesauce or just plain apples. Similarly, a voter ID law would have basically no impact on the ease with which someone could commit voter fraud, but you’d be putting up a huge barrier to the 600,000 legitimate North Carolina voters who might want to vote in-person but don’t currently have a state issued identification card. If you actually wanted to prevent voter fraud, the single most effective thing you could do is ban mail-in absentee voting—as noted by Judge Richard A. Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals, “Absentee voting is to voting inperson as a take-home exam is to a proctored one.”
All of this makes me wonder: Maybe voter ID laws aren’t even designed to prevent voter fraud. Republicans often get caught on tape sharing their real motivations. Shortly after Pennsylvania passed its voter ID law, the House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a Republican, was filmed saying, “Voter ID, which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: done.” The poor and the homeless are less likely to have state-issued photo ID. Women are less likely to have ID, since they often change their names after marriage or divorce. Students and the disabled are less likely to have ID. Conveniently for Republicans, requiring photo ID is a big nuisance for exactly the people they don’t want to show up for the polls.
And let’s backtrack a moment to mail-in absentee voting, where the potential for fraud is much higher: Maybe the reason Republicans aren’t touching mail-in absentee voting is that Republicans cast more absentee votes. In the 2008 general election in Florida, Republicans cast about 47 percent of total absentee votes, while Democrats cast 36 percent.
Call Governor Pat McCrory, and let him know you oppose a voter ID law.
Elena Botella is a Trinity senior. Her column runs every Thursday. You can follow Elena on Twitter @elenabotella.