The Corner

Elections

The Case for ‘Non-Strict’ Voter ID

(Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Conservatives say that voters should be required to show ID as a measure to prevent fraud. Liberals say that ID requirements disenfranchise the disproportionately poor and minority voters who don’t have IDs and might have trouble getting them — even if efforts are made to provide IDs for free. The liberals’ panic has always struck me as overblown, though it’s also difficult to say how much fraud exists that’s preventable by requiring IDs.

A new study argues that voter ID probably doesn’t matter much either way, and also suggests a middle road: “non-strict” ID laws that ask voters to provide identification but allow them to vote, subject to some restrictions, even if they don’t. It focuses on two states that already have such laws: In Michigan, those without IDs must sign an affidavit certifying their identity; in Florida, their signatures at the polls are checked against the signatures on their registration forms.

For scientific purposes, the neat thing about these states is that they keep track of how many people vote without ID, which tells us how many voters might be disenfranchised if these alternative voting processes weren’t available. The answer is not many:

Our best guess as to the fraction of ballots cast without identification in local elections in Florida is only 0.03%. Our upper bound estimate is that 0.10% of ballots cast are without ID. Similarly . . . in state and national elections in Florida, our best estimate and upper bound of the fraction of votes cast without identification are only 0.016% and 0.064%, respectively. The rate of voting without ID is somewhat higher in Michigan, where we estimate that 0.3% (from 2004–2016) and 0.31% (2012–2016) were cast without IDs.

The question, of course, is how much we can generalize from these states to other states with different laws. The results do suggest that stricter states could switch to non-strict rules without opening the floodgates to massive numbers of ID-less, potentially fraudulent voters. It’s slightly less clear what the numbers mean for lax states: It’s possible that some ID-less voters, fraudulent or legitimate, might vote when there’s no ID law at all but would be discouraged by an affidavit requirement or signature check.

To me, the takeaway is that these middle-of-the-road laws are a good approach. With these policies in place, no claim of “disenfranchisement” can pass the laugh test, there are systems in place to discourage ID-less voters from committing fraud, and rates of ID-free voting are low enough that any such fraud will virtually never affect an election.

Most Popular

U.S.

How to Bend the News

This, from ABC, is a nice example of a news organization deliberately bending the truth in order to advance a narrative that it wishes were true but is not: Venerable gun manufacturer Colt says it will stop producing the AR-15, among other rifles, for the consumer market in the wake of many recent mass ... Read More
U.S.

Trump’s Total Culture War

 Donald Trump is waging a nonstop, all-encompassing war against progressive culture, in magnitude analogous to what 19th-century Germans once called a Kulturkampf. As a result, not even former president George W. Bush has incurred the degree of hatred from the left that is now directed at Trump. For most of ... Read More
World

Iran’s Act of War

Last weekend’s drone raid on the Saudi oil fields, along with the Israeli elections, opens a new chapter in Middle Eastern relations. Whether the attack on Saudi oil production, which has temporarily stopped more than half of it, was launched by Iranian-sponsored Yemeni Houthis or by the Iranians themselves is ... Read More
Education

George Packer Gets Mugged by Reality

Few journalists are as respected by, and respectable to, liberals as The Atlantic’s George Packer. The author of The Assassin's Gate (2005), The Unwinding (2013), and a recently published biography of Richard Holbrooke, Our Man, Packer has written for bastions of liberal thought from the New York Times Magazine ... Read More