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Voter ID: With no evidence of either a current problem or a credible solution, it's a waste of money

Minnesota Election ballot
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If this amendment passes, Minnesotans will have to pay for a program that essentially provides no benefit. Is this not wasteful?

Recently, former Sen. Norm Coleman wrote a piece for the Star Tribune supporting the Voter ID amendment in Minnesota.  In his opinion, he wrote:

Is there voter fraud in Minnesota?  Yes.  Is it rampant and out of control?  Not yet.  Can the level of fraud, no matter how small, affect the outcome of elections in our state and elsewhere in the nation?  Absolutely.

I agree with his premise. Is voter fraud a good thing? No. Is it something we should strive to prevent? Of course. However, what he, and it seems many other conservatives have forgotten is that nothing is free.

Everything, including this amendment, has a cost associated with it. Yet, for some reason, this aspect of the voter amendment has completely eluded those who purport to keep government spending in check. This amendment was passed by the Minnesota House and Senate by many politicians who ran on a platform of cutting wasteful government programs. Yet, if this amendment passes, Minnesotans will have to pay for a program that essentially provides no benefit. Is this not wasteful?

Two critical questions

As someone who self-identifies as a fiscal conservative, I ask myself two questions about any proposed government program: 1) Does it address an identifiable problem worth solving?; 2) Is the government capable of providing an effective solution to the problem? While any issue will raise considerable debate on both of these questions, the voter ID amendment seems to fail on both of these inquiries.

First, studies show that voter fraud is essentially nonexistent. For instance, a News 21 analysis shows that only 10 cases of voter fraud by impersonation have occurred in the United States since 2000. But of 146 million registered voters, this means that only 1 in every 15 million votes involved in-person fraud over the past 13 years. And, if that wasn't telling enough, not a single one of those 10 cases occurred in Minnesota.

Now, I am willing to accept that this study may be wrong. After all, no study is flawless. Mistakes could have been made. However, this is a situation where the government will be spending Minnesota tax revenue. More specifically, the hard-earned dollars of Minnesota citizens. Thus, the burden to show the existence of a problem should be on the government.

Where were the studies done by the legislators who supported the amendment to show the existence of voter fraud? Where are the studies from groups supporting the amendment now? I’m not willing to simply give these groups the benefit of the doubt that voter fraud exists just because they claim it does. If the Minnesota Legislature wants to spend Minnesota’s tax revenue to fight a proposed problem, it needs to at least put forward some evidence that a problem exists.  

No evidence that the 'solution' is one

Moreover, as if the failure to show why we need this amendment is not bad enough, there is no evidence showing that the proposed solution will address the supposed problem. The News 21 study also showed that most cases of fraud are either done through absentee ballots or through registration. Requiring an ID to vote would not have prevented any of these offenses. And again, even if this study is incorrect, the burden should be on the Legislature to show why the voter ID amendment is the answer. It doesn’t deserve the presumption that the proposed amendment is the correct solution.

At its core, I don’t have a particularly large problem with the amendment. Preventing voter fraud is something that most Americans can likely agree is a worthwhile cause. However, until there is some evidence that fraud exists and the government can address it properly, this amendment is just a waste of taxpayer money. I’m not willing to accept the argument that fraud isn’t rampant yet, thus we need to pass the amendment now. I would rather that Minnesota’s tax revenue go to problems that currently exist and can be addressed.  

Coleman accused opponents of the amendment of “crying wolf.” Until actual evidence is used to show that Minnesota has a problem with voter fraud, he and supporters of the voter ID amendment are the ones “crying wolf.”

Eric Dietz is a law student at Hamline University in St. Paul.

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Comments (12)

Do 50 states need it? Time for a US National Identity Card.

Can you see the *conservatives* pushing FOR a US National Identity Card? It would replace a driver's license and many other forms of ID (thus saving money).

Good piece

Although these same thoughts have been through my own head numerous times, and others have said them out loud before, it's good to have it all in one place. It's not new, but it's important. Thank you, Eric.

Well stated Mr. Dietz

Mr. Dietz has summarized my opposition to this amendment in one short column.

I also think there is a large dose of political opportunism here, with the Republicans believing such an amendment will give them the edge in many tight elections. The fact that Dayton won narrowly and Franken won basically in a coin toss still burns the partisans and this is a "get back".

Mr Dietz's argument is rational and correct,

but it implicitly concedes too much by presuming there is an issue suited for rational debate between two views operating in good faith. The form of voter fraud that an ID requirement would address is as close to nonexistent as we can measure. There are myriad other forms of voter fraud, obstacles to voter access and other features of how we conduct campaigns and elections that clearly and profoundly stand in the way of selecting leaders who will represent the will and interests of the people. These are quite identifiable, exist by choice of the "body politic" and could be remedied. Those pushing the voter ID requirement have no interest in addressing any of these. They are interested in only the one form that will have the most unbalanced effect as between voters for the two major parties. This shows their professed interest in the "integrity of the vote" to be patently insincere. There is only one side to this issue.

And the majority of Minnesotans

Are not ready to accept that a little bit of fraud is acceptable.

You stick with your story, we'll stick with ours and we'll see who comes out on top in November...deal?

But the point is that absent

But the point is that absent evidence, and it is absent, fraud is not a factor in our elections. Having conspiracy theories in your own head is one thing, but actual, um proof is another, and you don't have that proof, just the theory.

When we all have government issued ID's, and there is voter fraud by some other means, what then will you do to the constitution to chase that boogieman.

This is not a circular argument, it is a weak argument and all the debunking attempts have failed to verify fraud. Now if you look at the real problem, that of felons voting, then you might be on to something. Some felons can vote, some not, so rather than address a non-existent problem affecting 3 million people, why not address the problem of the very confusing rules surrounding which felons can vote and which cannot, and affect those few people - -Remember, felons are not excluded from obtaining a real, government issued ID, how does that square with your theory?

Unacceptable fraud

I find that the notion that voter ID will fix "that little bit of fraud" to be an unacceptable fraud in and of itself.

Is voting machine fraud the real problem?

A harrowing article in the November issue of Harper's magazine argues that the real problem that has skewed the outcome of several House and Senate races in various states in recent years is voting machine fraud. Perhaps that's where investigative energy would be better spent.

Voting machine fraud?

I'm not familiar with the Harper's article you mention (perhaps you have a link?). But it would be important to know whether it was discussing actual touchscreen voting machines with no paper trail v.s. the machines that count paper ballots such as we have in Minnesota.

One reason there has been (prior to the current amendment dust-up) such a high degree of confidence in the state of Minnesota's electoral process is because there are actual hand-counted verifications (post-election audits) of the machine count in randomly selected precincts after every election. And the results of these recounts have shown time and again that the accuracy of our election system is very high - much higher, in fact, than the 0.5% threshold that triggers an election recount by law:

http://www.startribune.com/opinion/editorials/108257194.html?refer=y

Voting machine fraud may or may not be a problem in other states. But I'm absolutely convinced it is not a problem here in Minnesota.

If more voters

are prevented from legitimately casting ballots than are prevented from illegally casting ballots, how does society benefit?

Show me evidence of fraud which would be prevented by the use of voter ID and that the number of fraudulent votes exceeds the number of legitimate votes that will be lost, and you've got my vote. Until then, keep your hands off of the Constitution.

"Show me evidence of fraud"

There's a book about electoral fraud by John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky - “Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk.”

Heard one of the authors on the radio discussing it.

voter id

I don't understand why we are waiting until fraud is evident to require a photo i.d. I photo i.d. costs $3 in my state at any license branch. It is FREE during the elections. You need a birth certificate to get a photo i.d. A birth certificate is $12.00. Over the course of a year, I'll bet any person who wants to vote can save $12 to get their birth certificates.

A photo id is required at all Obama rallies, the convention and Mrs Obama book signings. Why? For the protection of our president and the first lady. I don't think they waited for something bad to happen at one of these events to require photo i.d.. Our voting process is just as important to protect.

Why would the government need to pay for this i.d. system? Get your own, make an effort to get it and quit telling people they aren't responsible for anything in their own lives. It does seem like many people think the government needs to pay for everything.