In Person Voter Fraud Never, Ever Happens. Here’s Why…

“If you have to stop people from voting to win elections, your ideas suck”

Where does that quote come from? Was it Lincoln? Shakespeare? Me? I’ll never tell. OK, it was me.

Sadly, I first said this in the context of fighting a Voter ID law in Pennsylvania back in 2012. The law passed anyway despite the Speaker of the House and prime sponsor of the bill being caught on tape saying that the purpose of the law was “so Mitt Romney can win Pennsylvania”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuOT1bRYdK8

Fortunately, a hero met the moment and, along with others, successfully sued to have the law struck down. Who was that hero? Mandela? Salk? Actually, that was me too.

When that case was decided, I thought that the concept of a Voter ID law had been so thoroughly discredited that it would go the way of the Edsel, or New Coke, or Ivanka Trump, and never be spoken of again. However the idea is making a comeback as Republican state legislators around the nation pass laws designed to spare them the pain of ever losing an election again.

There are many arrows in the quiver of modern voter suppression. Limiting the times of voting, banning organizations that register voters (I’m not making this up), even making it a crime to hand out bottles of water to people forced to wait for hours in line (Obviously, I’m making this one up. Nobody could be that insane). But Voter ID still retains a special place atop the pantheon of suppression techniques.

Requiring photo ID at the polls will supposedly stop “voter fraud”. But this is laughably disingenuous. There are many theoretical forms of voter fraud. There is voter intimidation, ballot-stuffing, deliberate miscounting, etc. But there is one, and only one form of fraud that Voter ID would even arguably address, and that is in-person voter impersonation. If someone shows up at a poll, and claims to be someone that they are not in order to get a vote they are not entitled to, requiring them to present photo ID would impede that plan. That, standing alone, sounds reasonable. But it isn’t. Not even a little bit, for a number of reasons.

First, when you require a photo ID, you obviously make it tougher for people who don’t have such a photo. By far, the most common photo IDs are a driver’s license and a passport. But people without driver’s licenses tend to be people who don’t drive (that’s the sort of insight my constituents came to expect), as well as people who live in inner cities who don’t travel far to work and have access to more public transportation. Also, poor people, who can’t afford cars and can’t afford to take time off from work to take busses out to get their photo taken.

Who is less likely to have passports? If your answer is “people who have a pied-a-terre in Paris”, you would be wrong. What’s the matter with you? No, it’s usually people who can’t afford to travel internationally, or young people who haven’t had occasion to obtain a passport yet.

So let’s think this through. What party do poor people, inner-city dwellers and young students tend to vote for? I think you can see why our former House Speaker was so confident that Voter ID would have helped Mitt Romney.

All of that said, the most compelling argument against Voter ID is that it solves a problem that doesn’t exist. I don’t mean it’s relatively rare. I mean it DOES NOT HAPPEN. When we sued to have Voter ID struck down, PA Governor Tom Corbett, who was defending the law, admitted in discovery that he could not identify a single case of proven in-person voter fraud in the previous twenty years. Not one. He also admitted that the Voter ID law disenfranchised approximately 750,000 Pennsylvanians with the stroke of a pen.

Think about that. We wiped out the votes of three quarters of a million people, mostly Democrats (“Whaaaat?? We had no idea!”) to solve a problem that simply doesn’t exist.

At this point in the debate, someone usually says that there may be no arrests or convictions for in-person fraud, but that’s only because it’s a very difficult crime to detect, and many cases are happening “below the radar.” Donald Trump used to say this, while also claiming that “millions” of illegal voters were “bussed to the polls” in states he lost. Presumably, nobody noticed busloads of strangers showing up at their local elementary school to vote.

The fact is voter impersonation is almost impossible to get away with. Let’s think it through. Suppose you wanted to go to Erie and commit fraud to assure that the Erie County Auditor loses his reelection, because I think I speak for everyone when I say that we’ve had enough of his shit. In order to do this:

= You’d have to.know the name of a person registered to vote in the precinct you plan to vote in. This in itself will take some work.

= You’d have to know that the person has not already voted by the time you show up to pretend you’re him.

= You’d have to know that none of the 8–12 poll workers, Constables, Judges of Elections or committee people who are at the same poll year after year know the person you are impersonating and recognize that you are not him.

= You’d have to be the same approximate age as the person and have a similar signature, which you’d have to know in advance. If you are impersonating “Old Man Simmons” and you are 19, there may be some issues.

If you get any one of these things wrong, you are going to prison for five years. And what do you get for all of this risk? What is your payoff? One…lousy…vote. One vote in an election which almost certainly will not be decided by your one vote.

People are often willing to risk a lot to commit a crime. Robbing a bank is risky, but people do it. God knows I have. But it turns out that almost nobody is willing to risk it all to commit a felony with no reward. And this is why in-person voter fraud almost never happens. And it does seem to call into question the real reasons for the urgency to pass these laws.

Long-time state House and Senate member, author of PA’s Medical Marijuana law, also creator of “shit-gibbon!” Comedian, professor, father of 2 awesome children!

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