While Donald Trump’s assertion that “millions” of undocumented immigrants voted in the 2016 presidential election is ludicrous, the baseless fear of voter fraud has profound policy implications in the United States. To be clear, the United States does not have a voter fraud issue: one study found that between 2000 and 2014 there were only 31 credible allegations (not even necessarily acts) of voter fraud out of 1 billion votes cast. (Yes, that is billion with a “b”.)
Republicans use charges of voter fraud to propose so-called Voter ID laws, which require certain forms of photo identification prior to voting. While this might not sound like a radical proposal, a lot of voters–particularly people of color, poor people, and senior citizens–do not actually have a valid form of identification. Democrats generally oppose these laws, as they risk disenfranchising already marginalized populations. However, I have a compromise that could put Democrats on the offense, instead of on the defense, on this issue.
Let me reiterate: I do not think there is a huge threat of voter fraud in the United States. No evidence suggests otherwise. Major elections for the Presidency, for Senate, or even for most, if not all, U.S. House races are so large that rigging them by having individuals vote fraudulently would have to be a conspiracy so large and complicated that it surely would fit in an Ocean’s Eleven film.
That being said, according to Gallup, 80% of people in the United States support requiring photo identification at the polls. This includes 63% of Democrats and 77% of people of color–the two groups with a lot to lose from voter suppression. While the fear of voter fraud may indeed be baseless, people in the United States seem to feel much more comfortable knowing that voting requires photo identification (even if requiring identification to vote is imperfect). Rather than go against the tide, perhaps there is a way to make this issue palatable to progressives.
My proposal: mandate voting in any election for federal offices require some form of photo identification–and have these regulations take effect in five to ten years. Further, set aside money not only for public awareness campaigns for this shift in policy, but also to ensure that all eligible voters are able to obtain valid ID. Allow me to explain.
As the United States has no national ID card system (Social Security cards are not valid forms of ID, nor should they be), state-issued forms of photo identification would count. Pleasing both Democrats and Republicans, state university issued ID cards and gun permits respectively could both be used, provided that they pass a set of criteria. This set of criteria would be universal in all parts of the United States, stipulating what information government-issued ID cards would have to show.
The five to ten year implementation plan is crucial. Study after study has shown that millions of voters in the United States would be disenfranchised if strict voter ID laws were to be implemented today. These voters skew black, latino, as well as lower income. That is unacceptable.
Anecdotally, when I have discussed my voter ID concept with friends, this is the moment where the conversation takes a turn. The discussion turns away from ensuring that all potential voters have the ability to execute their right to vote, and instead focuses on castigating people who happen to not have a valid form of state-issued photo identification. When I point out that there exist a plethora of valid reasons people might not have IDs, my right-wing friends tend to respond dismissively. Expecting voters to quickly adapt to voting regulations that upend over 200 years of precedent is unreasonable.
Further, as voter ID laws ostensibly exist to make voting a more secure process, this sort of punitive, cavalier attitude toward the disenfranchisement of voters is bizarre. From my perspective, voting is supposed to be the bedrock of civil duty in a democratic country. Considerations need to be taken to prevent fraudulence and corruption, but voting should still be as accessible as possible to all potential voters.
I think my proposal is a generous compromise. Republicans get voter ID laws, while Democrats have the time to ensure that qualified voters have valid photo identification. As there is no credible evidence of widespread voter fraud in the United States, delaying the implementation of voter ID laws should not prove problematic to Republicans.
Or should it?
Republican politicians in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have accidentally admitted in public that the voter ID laws help Republicans. In 2016, this was borne out: Trump won Wisconsin by less than 23,000 votes, whereas approximately 200,000 voters were suppressed by the law.* Given the demographics of the voters most commonly suppressed, it is not a stretch to say that the law likely handed Trump the Electoral College votes of Wisconsin.
I might be cynical enough to believe that many Republican politicians are proposing these laws solely with their party’s best interests in mind, but I know that tens of millions of people in the United States support these policies out of a genuine desire to maintain what they perceive as the integrity of democracy.
Some may even have a bigoted desire to suppress the vote amongst certain groups of people–but, with 80% of people in the U.S. supporting these policies, it’s clear that to many this is viewed as a widespread (even if totally unsubstantiated) threat. Even if Democrats are correct in opposing Voter ID laws at first, they’ll win more support by appealing to voters’ sensibilities on this issue than by denying the issue altogether.
* In Post Notes, I add some additional thoughts or context to a blog post I’ve previously written. That can be found here.