The Maryland Public Policy Institute
There’s a push across the nation to toughen requirements for voting. Like so many issues these days, it falls along partisan lines: conservatives want more restrictions to prevent fraud and liberals decry these restrictions as being racist. If we take the partisanship out of this issue, however, there’s plenty of room for common ground. Reducing the opportunity for voter fraud and ensuring that everyone eligible to vote can vote if he or she wants should not be controversial to anyone.
The Maryland Reporter notes that Sen. Ben Cardin has little use for efforts like those of Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott to clean up voter rolls:
“These laws are the new Jim Crow laws of our times,” said Maryland U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin on a panel about “The War on Voting” at Netroots Nation, a large conference of progressive activists. “This is really an effort to control the outcome of elections” and not protect “the integrity of our electoral system.”
As this remark shows, Cardin and his ilk disagree not so much with the policy but with the perceived motives of those supporting it. This, too, is a common yet corrosive feature of today’s policy world. So much of the debate about what should happen at a local, state, or national level revolves around the motives of those supporting the policy, not the policy itself.
That’s a flawed way of looking at things for two reasons. One, you can’t know the motive behind anyone else’s actions. Two, even if someone is acting from bad motives, the policy they are supporting could be good.
On the election integrity front, there are good arguments on both sides. Conservatives rightly point out that there is ample opportunity for voter fraud. The rolls are filled with a number of people who are either dead, ineligible to vote, or have moved away. The ability to fraudulently vote by absentee ballot is especially troubling. As someone who has lived in three different places before I moved to Maryland, I could still probably be casting absentee ballots in those states if I really wanted to.
Liberals also make a good point that it’s difficult to commit voter fraud and that there are few proven cases of such fraud. As someone who worked as an election judge, I know first-hand that it would take a fairly vast conspiracy to perpetrate wide scale voter fraud at polling places. And without proof, I am skeptical of simply assuming that because voting fraud could exist that this means it does.
In reality, it is in everyone’s interests to ensure that the opportunity for voter fraud is minimal. Voter rolls should be checked regularly to remove people who are ineligible to vote. The opportunities to exploit weaknesses in the voting system are as easily exploitable by conservatives are they are liberals.
And yet conservatives should be as wary of purging voter rolls as are liberals. These purges, if carried out by partisan election officials, can just as easily disfranchise conservative voters as liberal voters. If you give too much leeway to politicians or bureaucrats to decide who gets to vote then you open up the door to a different form of voter fraud.
This should not be a controversial issue. But you have people like Sen. Cardin essentially saying that anyone who supports efforts to clean up voter rolls is racist. And then you have conservatives saying that anyone who opposes voter roll purges is trying to steal elections. The rhetoric of Sen. Cardin and others is good for rallying the base but is bad for our political process.
Let’s leave motives out of this debate. Let’s look at what the best policy to achieve the goal would be. We can have a debate about what the best way to get there is, but we shouldn’t be trying to ascribe sinister motives to those who disagree with us. All that does is paralyze our system and make finding a solution to a problem impossible.
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