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.