That’s presumably not the point Patrick Caldwell was trying to make in his American Prospect article “How To Vote Down Voter ID.” But in describing how Minnesota liberals were able to defeat a voter ID ballot proposal last year that initially appeared to be able to pass, he highlights the arguments that appeared to win the day — arguments which voter ID advocates ought to be able to knock down next time if they make the effort:
In campaigns against photo ID, the standard line of attack has been first to disprove voter fraud. This is almost always an uphill battle, though; conservatives have successfully convinced the public that fraud is prevalent. Our Vote Our Future issued a directive to its canvassers: “Don’t say the F-word.” There was no point, the group concluded, to cutting down the trope conservatives had erected over the years. …
The other standard argument would be to focus on whom the law would exclude from voting, especially African Americans and Latinos. “The other side is running implicitly or explicitly on race,” says [Dan] McGrath, [executive director of TakeAction Minnesota] “on the anxiety lots of working-class whites have on changing racial demographics. You’ve got to be mindful of that, be thoughtful of how to contend on those grounds.” Our Vote Our Future’s literature highlighted segments of the population that tend to struggle under photo-ID requirements but that hadn’t received a lot of attention: senior citizens and active-duty military members. One of the campaign’s first TV ads in October featured Alex Erickson, a young veteran of the Iraq War. “When you put it all on the line defending freedom, nobody should take a basic freedom away from you,” Erickson told viewers, saying that the legislature “screwed it up” by not explicitly including military IDs in the amendment.
Our Vote Our Future’s breakthrough, however, came by adopting an argument usually associated with conservatives: that the amendment was too costly, a waste of government resources. “We tend to think of voting rights being about the civil-rights movement. I think there’s a different progressive argument to make, which is about good governance,” says [Javier] Morillo, [president at SEIU Local 26]. “Some people felt that the message wasn’t progressive enough, but I fundamentally disagree.”
Pointing out the added financial drain of a photo-ID law wasn’t new, but it’s an argument usually raised while the legislature debates a bill, not one presented to sway the public. A study by the Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota found that the total costs of the amendment—spread over the state and local governments and individuals—would range from $52 million to $150 million. “It was really an explosive strategy to shift the debate and say this is not about civil rights,” says David Schultz, who co-authored the study, “but that this is about costs.”
In short, they appealed to voters’ pragmatism, rather than the more typical liberal arguments that the laws are either contrary to civil rights, unnecessary and/or just plain racist — even Minnesota voters just weren’t buying any of that.
But arguments that the laws were costly and unworkable? Those clicked, because, well, this is the government we’re talking about. It’s ironic that liberals won by adopting small government arguments, but there you go.
Nevertheless, each of the arguments can be fairly easy countered:
“Our Vote Our Future’s literature highlighted segments of the population that tend to struggle under photo-ID requirements but that hadn’t received a lot of attention: senior citizens and active-duty military members” — Then address them. No voter ID advocate is deliberately out to disenfranchise legitimately eligible voters, no matter what hysterical anti-ID activists claim. The proposed Minnesota law would have made state-issued IDs available for free to those who requested them, a fact the Prospect article doesn’t exactly highlight. Voter ID advocates need to invest in outreach campaigns and make the bar for providing proof of eligibility reasonable. For seniors who lack a drivers license or similar ID, have them provide a Social Security check stub.
With regard to active-duty military, the answer is even easier: Let military-issued ID count as voter ID. Why not? Elsewhere Caldwell quotes a Republican admitting that not allowing military ID was a mistake. Fine. Don’t make that mistake again.
“Our Vote Our Future’s breakthrough, however, came by adopting an argument usually associated with conservatives: that the amendment was too costly, a waste of government resources.” – This was admittedly clever but still bogus. Safeguarding the integrity of the ballot is a perfectly reasonable expense for a government. One might as well argue it is a waste of resources to provide indigent criminal defendants with lawyers: It is something the state has to do.
The argument used by Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota to portray it as too expensive can be found here. It is not very persuasive. The study inflates and conflates expenses in every possible way it can think of. Note that the estimate of $52-150 million is gained by adding individual and government costs. Much of the costs are are based on speculative or flimsy evidence anyway. The cost to individuals, for example, is pegged at between $16-72 million. Anytime the range is that wide, you know they’re just making a wild guess. And again, the state is providing the ID for free, so in the vast majority of cases it won’t cost individuals lacking photo IDs anything. The prospective costs to individuals the study mentions come from things like replacing lost birth certificates or passports, costs that range between $10-100. Not exactly an arm and a leg.
Still, it would be a good project for a conservative think tank to take their own serious look at the costs to provide a counter example and ensure that studies like CEIM’s aren’t the only thing for reporters to rely on.
The case for solid voter ID laws is still strong. Advocates just need to learn from their mistakes.