29 April 2008

Crawford Redux

The U.S. Supreme Court in the Crawford case held that an Indiana requirement that voters either produce photo ID, or to cast a provisional ballot and produce photo ID worthy documentation within ten days is valid, despite a complete lack of evidence that imposters showing up to vote is a genuine problem in the state. Photo IDs are free in Indiana (escaping the issue of a direct poll tax), but obtaining documentation to get a photo ID or to support a provisional ballot is not, nor are in person trips to the pertinent government offices which are difficult for people who generally do not have cars and often do not have access to public transportation.

The state conceded that as many as 1% of voters in the state (mostly elderly, poor, minority and disabled) would be affected by the law. The Democratic Party of Indiana claimed that more were impacted. The dissenting opinion noted that the Democratic Party had identified more than twenty people in a single Indiana precinct who cast provisional ballots and were likely eligible voters (due to signature matches with registration documents and a prior history of voting, for example) whose provisional ballots were not counted as a result of the photo ID requirement. There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of precincts in Indiana.

The dissenting opinion by Justice Souter noted that there is no evidence that anyone has ever impersonated a voter in Indiana at the polls and also suggested why this might be the case. The leading opinion from Justice Stevens identified only one such proven case in the entire nation in recent history (in Washington State), and a corruption situation in New York State from 140 years ago.

Thus, the State of Indiana won this case on the law, in a divided opinion, but the facts revealed in the process make clear that this law disenfranchises many more people who have a right to vote than it prevents from casting ballots improperly. It also, once again, makes the U.S. Supreme Court look like it is acting in a partisan manner to disenfranchise voters in close elections, just as it did in the imfamous 2000 case of Bush v. Gore.

Still, from a practical perspective, the impact is not earth shaking. The percentage of people who lack photo IDs by the highest measure does not exceed 6%-10% of the population and may be 1% or lower. Voter turnout in the population of eligible voters without photo IDs has always been exceedingly low compared to other demographics, for the same kinds of reasons that make it hard for this population to obtain photo IDs.

To the extent that the barriers to obtaining photo IDs are primarily economic, the amount of money a non-profit would have to secure in Indiana to overcome these barriers is on the same order of magnitude as the value of the goods and services involved in taking a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. A few hundred thousand dollars would be sufficient given the number of people impacted who really want to vote and the costs involved to help most people who are not voting due to economic barriers associated with photo ID requirements. Campaign technology is sophisticated enough that it is possible to be efficient about it by using techniques like targeting for assistance people who cast provisional ballots but did not validate them, and registered voters who didn't vote in counties where there were many provisional ballots cast but not validated.

Such a campaign would produce benefits to Democrats at the ballot box year after year, and unlike voter registration campaigns, which are already common, a photoID campaign would also help people without photo IDs clear other hurdles in life, such as obtaining government benefits and dealing with encounters with police.

Yes, this decision clearly helps Republicans in a razor thin election with high turnout in a Presidential election year (when marginal voters most often vote), and it is not inconceivable that Indiana could be a swing state in a statewide race in such a year. But, no Democrat with a two percentage point lead in any statewide race and a viable campaign war chest has much to fear from it, and the areas where the highest concentrations of disenfranchised voters live are likely to be the safest districts for Democrats at a less than statewide level.


Billll said...

"The state conceded that as many as 1% of voters in the state (mostly elderly, poor, minority and disabled) would be affected by the law. The Democratic Party of Indiana claimed that more were impacted." A quick census reveals that the numbers of dead currently rival those of the living.

Justice Stevens has apparently never heard of Chicago, New Orleans, Seattle, St. Louis, and no doubt others.

This may not be a problem in Indiana yet, but maybe the Indianians don't want it to become one.

Michael Malak said...

"Get out the vote" is a miniscule problem compared to electronic voting machines and to the susceptibility, due to poor education in this country, to politician's lies. In 2002, 2/3 in the U.S. believed Saddam was involved in 9/11.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

The Indiana requirement pertains only to people who show up in person at the polls and sign a document claiming that they are the voter in question.

This kind of fraud is very, very rare in modern times. Dead people don't show up at the polls, and people who want to pervert the system by having dead people vote generally do so by absentee voting, as this reduces their risk of being caught.

Dex said...

scott horton has written a few articles on the fallacy of voter fraud, how it's in essence a backdoor gop electoral strategy: fraud is in fact rare, horton writes, but that's not the point - 00 and 04 demonstrated what it means when a small slice of the populace is unable to vote, or has their votes thrown out.

Dex said...

btw, you might be interested in horton's "no comment" blog over on the harper's site, proph.

Michael Malak said...


That we're relying upon the votes from a few thousand people, falsely identified as felons by the Florida GOP using Choicepoint data, in order to throw Bush out of office speaks to the larger problem, which is that it shouldn't have been that close! Bush should have been impeached in 2004, not reelected.

Billll said...

The way voting the dead works is that you get together a number of volunteers, and give each the name of a deceased person from the precinct you plan to vote them in, and a street address within the precinct.

In King county WA, the addresses were frequently the precinct captains house, though in some cases vacant lots, non-existent residence numbers, and the approximate location of one end of a bridge sufficed for the poll workers.

An industrious fellow would have several names and addresses, each in a different precinct, at hand for his volunteers, and provide transport from one polling place to the next.
This works best in high-density neighborhoods where the poll workers would not be expected to know everybody.

Absentee ballots are best obtained from nursing homes and other care facilities where turnover is significant. Pay the nurse $5 for every unclaimed ballot, or better yet, send good-hearted volunteers around to "assist" the residents with their ballots.

Go out beforehand and collect voter registration forms. You'd be surprised how many bums live at the same addresses. Ask for absentee ballots for each of them, and they come delivered to your door.

Couple voter apathy with the high cost of conducting a campaign, especially if you don't have access to an army of volunteers from the municipal payroll, and it's a wonder anybody loses an election.

Dex said...

sorry, but the examples you give have absolutely nothing to do with on-site, in-person voting, which is what the voter id law covers.