I know one of the things about academics that drives policy makers batty is that we pick and criticize,but often don’t propose. I plead guilty, however, this story from the Charlotte Observer on the arguments for voter ID is just too easy of a target.
The money quotes:
But state Democratic Chairman David Parker of Statesville sees the legislation as an effort to disenfranchise 600,000 to 1 million North Carolina voters who do not hold driver’s licenses. “Why the Republican Party wants to dishonor the flag and the principles of the Constitution is beyond me,” Parker said.
Not sure why the flag got in there, but I think the Supreme Court has already ruled on the constitutionality of voter ID.
In 2008, which saw a sharp rise in voting when 4.2 million North Carolinians went to the polls, there were 235 voting felonies, 30 cases of double voting, 23 cases of noncitizens voting, five cases of absentee voting fraud and 16 cases of fraudulent registration forms turned over to the district attorney, according to the elections board.
Like everything else in politics, the statistics are used by both parties to spin their arguments. For the Democrats data is evidence that there is no widespread fraud in North Carolina. For Republicans, it only proves that the Democratic-controlled state and local boards of elections are not catching the fraud.
My calculator can barely hold that one–.0000055, or .0055%. Of course, since a small number apparently indicates a big problem for some in the state, I’m not sure why we collect evidence at all!
But here is the real takeaway quote:
“The fact that people think it’s needed is a reason why it’s needed,” De Luca said. “If there is ever a close election in North Carolina it will be assured that everyone who has voted will be who they say they are. It will help cut down on questions about the outcome of elections.”
The implication is that even if citizens erroneously believe there is voter fraud (see unwillingness to use evidence above), then we need to protect against fraud even if it does not exist. My colleagues on this blog have examined the determinants of voter confidence just a few times, including a series of papers available here, and there is no reference to perceptions of voter fraud.
Steve Ansolabehere and Nate Persily take on the question directly in the Harvard Law Review and discover the same thing: no relationship between perceptions of fraud and vote turnout. The real money quote, from Steve and Nate:
We worry, in particular, that the issue of vote fraud and voter ID is ripe for such conjectures about perceptions because, as with campaign finance, the more relevant empirical claims about the existence of fraud and the potential for disenfranchisement are so contested. Our exploration of the data presented here, however, suggests that casual assertions about popular beliefs should not substitute for the difficult balancing of the constitutional risks and probabilities of vote fraud and vote denial.
beliefs should not substitute for the difficult balancing of the constitutional risks and probabilities of vote fraud and vote denial