The Voter ID debate demands that one acknowledge the obvious, but then advance the absurd. Of course voter fraud occurs. Lyndon Johnson stole his first election back in 1948. Kennedy pulled some funny business in 1960 in Chicago. Dead people vote. Felons vote. People vote more than once on occasion. Sure. It happens, but to justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars on Voter ID implementation one would need to prove that Voter ID fraud is so pervasive that the integrity of the democratic process is in danger, which appears to not be the case.
Investigations in Colorado and Florida revealed that about .001% of voters committed fraud. In North Carolina the number was even lower .0002%. To nab Colorado’s 35 fraudulent voters would cost the state (or feds depending on whose footing the bill) six million dollars or $171K per violator. To give some perspective, leprosy occurs in about .002% of the population, which does not detract from the seriousness of the disease or the suffering of those afflicted. Leprosy is no doubt a horrible affliction, but if a politician proposed that we spend billions to vaccinate everyone to wipe out the final remnants of this disease we would give them the proverbial ‘side-eye.’ The same applies for those who claim voter ID laws support democracy when we know the opposite is true.
“Democracy… while it lasts, is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy.” – John Adams
Conservatives have never been strong advocates of widespread voting, often equating it to mob rule or what the Greeks called ‘ochlocracy’. The idea that people without property, proper education or acculturation should have the right to vote struck men like John Adams as a step toward national suicide akin to the French Revolution. This hostility continues on through the conservative tradition connecting conservatives in the South like John Randolph and John Calhoun to those in the North like Calvin Colton then moving on through subsequent generations linking libertarian thinkers like Murray Rothbard to traditional conservatives like Russell Kirk, and culminating with the advent of Movement Conservatism with perhaps its most articulate and prolific spokesman being editor and founder of National Review William F. Buckley, Jr. Throughout much of the 1950s and early 1960s National Review attacked Civil Rights and Voting Rights advances with Buckley’s most popular essay on the subject being ‘Why the South Must Prevail’ in which he argues that southern states were justified in denying blacks the right to vote, because they were not sufficiently civilized.
“Liberty, then, when forced on a people unfit for it, would, instead of a blessing, be a curse.” – John C. Calhoun
The state’s rights fight found its expression in the conflict between the ‘forgotten man’/’silent majority’ of whites who ‘worked hard’ and ‘paid their taxes’ and the raging black welfare queens who used the federal government to milk taxpayers for more food stamps, more powdered milk, and more government cheese. Reagan occasionally spoke of “strapping young bucks” strutting up to cash registers buying t-bone steaks with food stamps, while hardworking Americans ate ground beef presumably. The ‘food stamp buck’ came to represent the federal government and the beleaguered ground beef eater the states. Establishing this dichotomy was key to the ‘southern strategy’ which found that the more that blacks voted, the more whites voted for conservative candidates and later the national strategy which found outrage against welfare recipients – especially those of color – completely out of proportion to the number of people receiving assistance. Voter ID is an extension of this conflict with the hardworking voter armed with his love of country and driver’s license combating a many-headed beast devoted to filling ballot boxes with fraudulent votes.
“The forgotten man. . . . He works, he votes, generally he prays, but his chief business in life is to pay.” – William Graham Sumner
Aside from potentially removing millions from voting rolls, I believe conservatives see this is a great opportunity to foster conflict between states and the federal government. Any person who feels they have been improperly treated by their local voting site will likely have to take that complaint to the federal government, which would force either state compliance or federal action or both. Some states may drag their feet registering voters who might vote for the opposition, if at all, so who will monitor the process? The states cannot monitor themselves. The small percentage of people without IDs, some of whom have voted legally for years, will become the symbol of a conflict that has nothing to do with the integrity of voting and everything to do with the right of the state to control its institutions and election process. It is a conflict that galvanizes conservatives and is far more valuable than catching the .0001% of folks that commit fraud.
The Southern strategy in the 1960’s and 1970’s had the paradoxical effect of using the black vote to undermine black political power. Voter ID laws could have a similar effect, but not only by removing people from the rolls but also by mobilizing voters in the name of a fictional conflict to create and profit from a real one.