Monday, April 28, 2008

Welcome Back, Poll Tax

In a number of states, Republican legislatures have been pushing for new voter ID laws that require a government issued photo ID in order to vote. On the surface, this doesn't seem like a bad idea. I mean, you have a drivers license, I have a drivers license, what could go wrong? This is effectively what the Supreme Court just ruled in a case in Indiana.

But look a little deeper and you will see that not only is it an infringement on normal people's right to vote, but also completely ineffective as a vote fraud deterrent.

The biggest issue is the unrealized difficulty in getting these IDs. In order to get a new ID in Indiana (if they follow the same REAL ID rules we here in Missouri do), you need proof of social security number, proof of citizenship, and proof of residence. The first one is usually a social security card, to get a replacement one of these, if you lost (or never had one, say your parents lost it...) it you need to fill out SSA paperwork, get proof of citizenship (see below) and proof of identity (a driver's license...). Already you see the circular nature of these requirements.

Proof of citizenship/age is usually a birth certificate. To get this, you have to get as much information as you can about your birth, send that and a check (price I assume varies by state, usually between $15 and $20) to your state records department and hope they find your records. The difficulty of finding your records depends on the organization of the department, and most importantly of where your parents filed your birth records. If they don't find your record, you are out the fee and up the creek.

Proof of residency is a little bit less onerous, but in some cases much more difficult to get. To prove residence you need one of: utility bill, property tax receipt, bank statement or voter registration card. This is fine if you are living on your own (and have a permanent residence), but if you happen to live in a dorm, with your parents, or are homeless you won't necessarily have anything.

Add to all this the necessity to get to the SSA office and the DMV to file all the paperwork needed, and the cost of the government ID card, you wind up paying $40-$50 to get this information. And the ones that have the most to fight to get these are: elderly, whose paperwork may have long since been lost, if it was filed properly to begin with, and the poor, who have transportation issues, housing issues, and also difficulty getting the paperwork. This implicitly violates the 24th amendment against a poll tax.

Then there is the second sub-issue in that it will be ineffective except as a vote suppression tool. Anyone who works in security knows that a security system is only as strong as it's weakest link. The same holds for this scenario. The ID card you are required to present to vote on its face is pretty secure. It is difficult to forge and very clearly shows who is supposed to own it.

The problem is that all the paperwork required to get one is easily and regularly forged. Illegal immigrants across the country purchase or are given these documents in order to work. Now, instead, all they need to do is forge them, present them to a DMV employee (who won't pay close enough attention to notice a forgery), and walk away looking to all the world a legal voting citizen. This makes the new state IDs inherently flawed from the beginning, but it looks good to the general populace.

8 comments:

voter said...

The "elderly" have the least trouble producing or obtaining IDs.


Since they are the people who are over 65, they have Medicare IDs, and they know their Social Security numbers.

By the way, a social security card is a cheap piece of paper. Anyone can create a phony card with no trouble. For that reason few places accept it for ID purposes.

People also have passports.

As for birth certificates, they are all on file. There are only a handful of people born in the US who might not have one. Those people born a very long time ago in remote regions without a doctor or health professional present.

John J. said...

A medicare ID is equivalent to a social security card in the pile of identification needed to get the new IDs. The biggest problem for the elderly is getting a birth certificate, for the simple fact that they were born so long ago and documentation wasn't always as good back then, especially if they weren't born in a hospital.

A much younger example of that would be my wife who was born in a major city, but at home instead of at a hospital. It took the vital records department a few weeks to finally find her paperwork. Some are never found but you are still out the money.

Social security cards are a cheap piece of paper, as are birth certificates. They are very easy to forge, but those are the two papers that are required to get a new ID. This is why the new IDs are only as secure as those pieces of paper.

your pal said...

john j, you wrote:

"A much younger example of that would be my wife who was born in a major city, but at home instead of at a hospital. It took the vital records department a few weeks to finally find her paperwork. Some are never found but you are still out the money."

I'll bet it took exactly two minutes to find her records, but a few weeks before the clerk got around to looking.

It is easy to perpetrate voter fraud. However, it's probably true that there's been little of it in recent years. Chicago seems to have the reputation for the worst of it.

But these days, there's every reason to believe it will increase, in part because it's so easy.

You seem interested in assisting people who want to perpetrate voter fraud. With a close contest between Hillary and Obama, I can't imagine why you would want to give the less scrupulous candidate an avenue to win.

Due to the insane rantings of Reverend Wright, Obama's lead in Indiana is shrinking. Some pundits think he could lose the state next week. As close as he is to winning the nomination, his victory will come with a slender margin -- if he wins. That means a small amount of cheating by Hillary supporters could change the outcome.

The 2008 presidential election may well hang on the outcomes of the next two primaries. That puts a high value on the impact of cheating at the polls.

John J. said...

"I'll bet it took exactly two minutes to find her records, but a few weeks before the clerk got around to looking." For all your criticisms of the ability of government to organize, I am amazed that you would put forward this idea.

"It is easy to perpetrate voter fraud." It is easy to perpetrate voter fraud, this robo-call issue that is getting more attention is proof of that. However, the voter fraud that these laws are designed to prevent, 1) won't be prevented, because, like I said, a security system is only as strong as its weakest link, and 2) is not at all prevalent. Indiana could not produce one example.

The biggest problem with this law the the effective institution of a poll tax, something that was made unconstitutional with the 24th amendment.

your pal said...

john j, with respect to government's ability to organize, as you well know, there is a vast difference between maintaining simple records and managing vast projects with millions of moving parts.

As for voter fraud, well, it's one of those things that isn't visible when looking forward to pending elections. It's discovered afterward, well after election day. Hence, Indiana's seemingly unblemished past is no guarantee that fraud will not occur next week or in November.

As for your assertions that voter IDs are a form of poll tax, sorry, but every eligible voter can cough up enough ID to satisfy pollwatchers.

But a critical factor you seem to overlook is the outcome of various schemes. If pollwatchers reject voters for lack of IDs, it is not possible to predict which party or candidate will suffer or benefit.

John J. said...

"As for your assertions that voter IDs are a form of poll tax, sorry, but every eligible voter can cough up enough ID to satisfy pollwatchers." Not necessarily true and completely irrelevant. The poll tax that was ruled illegal with the 24th amendment was $1.50. It is unconstitutional to make citizens pay ANY amount in order to vote.

As for benefits, I don't care which party it would help. The problem is that forcing voters to pay to vote disproportionally affects poor and elderly voters. Historically, these voters tend to vote Democrat. That doesn't mean they will continue to do so, but given that fact, and the fact that only states with Republican legislatures are proposing these laws, the question is definitely raised.

your pal said...

john j, you said:

"The problem is that forcing voters to pay to vote disproportionally affects poor and elderly voters."

I don't think I've met any old people or poor people who lack IDs. As a resident of the Flatbush section of Brooklyn I encounter plenty of both.

Poor citizens who live in public housing and/or receive "food stamps" -- actually electronic debit cards these days -- are loaded with IDs.

Meanwhile, as I discovered at the Department of Motor Vehicles in NYC a few years ago when I was renewing my license in person, the DMV states the best form of ID for gettng a license is a person's Prison Release Form.

Apparently all government offices can determine the authenticity of those documents.

That aside, it sems you would prefer to permit easy growth of voter fraud by prohibiting pollwatchers from doing what any other fraud-prevention team would do.

John J. said...

Personal anecdote is not science or statistic. Actual statistics are "Citizens earning less than $25,000 per year are more than twice as likely to lack ready documentation of their citizenship as those earning more than $25,000." (More here).

As for my views on vote fraud, personally I think in person fraud is an vanishingly small percent of current fraud. The biggest problem, and one that surprisingly so few Republicans care to think about, is the ease of direct electronic vote tampering, especially in machines with no paper trail. It has been shown that someone with only the access a regular voter would need to vote could hack most of these systems in the time it takes to vote normally. But the Republicans that are so adamant about making sure everyone has an ID cry foul when asked to enforce a paper trail and auditing because it's "too much work". There are also rampant issues of voter intimidation and disenfranchisement (the later of which my wife faced in 2000) in predominantly Democratically voting districts.

How about we address these actual, widespread issues. After that we can discuss how to make sure the people getting to the polls and swearing under penalty of law that they are the person they say they are, really are that person.