Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Yay Disenfranchisement

A South Carolina GOP operative, Wesley Donehue, is taking some heat for tweeting "Nice! ... EXACTLY why we need Voter ID in SC" in response to an article entitled "SC voter ID law hits black precincts".

If you hit his feed, Donehue spends a lot of time moaning about how people didn't "read the follow-up" tweets. Basically, what those tweets focus on is that many of the people affected by the voter ID law may be students who originally hail from outside the state. This, he says, raises the prospect that they are trying to vote in two states (South Carolina, and their states of origin), which would be fraudulent.

And yes, that would be. The problem, though, is that while one can't legally vote in two states in the same election, one certainly can elect to vote in South Carolina elections exclusively as a student, even if one originally hails from another state. Donehue has no evidence that the former occurs, and the latter is perfectly legal. Ergo, Donehue is excited about suppressing legal (mostly Black) votes.

When I went to Carleton, for example, I sometimes voted in Maryland, and sometimes in Minnesota (never both at the same time, of course). I can do that, because I could credibly claim to be domiciled in either state, and the only legal requirement for being a "citizen" of a state is that one "resides" there. See U.S. Const. Amend. XIV ("All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.") (emphasis added). Students electing to register in the state where they live nine months of the year is perfectly valid and accepted practice, and well within the confines of the word "reside". And if they do so, they are legally as "South Carolinian" as Donehue is.

At times Donehue seems to admit that the only cognizable legal problem is not students originally from Georgia deciding to vote in South Carolina, but rather people voting in both states at once (other times he indicates that yes, his problem is with people legally voting in South Carolina when they originally hail from another state). While this has the advantage of keeping him on the right side of the constitution, it also has nothing to do with the law he's defending. The risk of double-voting occurs because one might be simultaneously registered in two states. When I registered to vote in Minnesota, there was nothing that canceled my Maryland registration -- or, for that matter, nothing that would let them know that I was ever registered in Maryland or anywhere else in the first place. If I had shown ID when I registered -- guess what? -- that's still true. Worse yet, most voter fraud that does occur happens through absentee ballots. Guess what isn't covered by voter ID laws? Yep -- absentee ballots.

Donehue's slipperiness between a valid but possibly non-existent "problem" that wouldn't be solved by the law in question anyway (double-voting), and an extant but perfectly legal phenomenon, the blocking of which is aptly called voter suppression (students voting where they go to college), should be an indicator that his analysis isn't exactly on the up-and-up. Whether that's because he really is excited at suppressing the Black vote, or because he's just not all that bright and doesn't understand how the constitution works with respect to residency, is an open question.


Wesley Donehue said...

I would probably go with "not all that bright."

In this article, Jim Daveport uses a college box as an example of a typical black SC precinct, when nearly 1/2 of those voters live outside of SC.

I'm not saying they do vote in more than one state. I'm saying they COULD vote in one of more states. That's why we need a voter ID. Only legitimate voters should be voting and they should only be voting once.

Still, I appreciate your well-written posting.

- Wesley

David Schraub said...

Okay, we need to unpack this a little.

(1) In a given college town, half the voters are students who originally hail from out of state. Assuming they don't commute from Georgia each day, though, they still "live" in South Carolina for most of the year. Likewise, I'm originally from Maryland (so I was an "out-of-state" student at Carleton), but I lived in Minnesota for most of the time while I was there.

(2) It was perfectly legal for me to register in Minnesota and vote there. Had I also voted in Maryland, that would be illegal. And you're right that I "could" have (which I'll address below). But assuming the voters in question are like me and did not, they are absolutely entitled to register and vote in South Carolina (as I did in Minnesota when I was a student there).

(3) Since I presume you can't actually be objecting to people legally voting in South Carolina just because they originally hail from elsewhere, or be promoting a law because it suppresses those legal votes, you can only make your defense on the front of the double-voting problem.

And here's the rub == the ID law does nothing to stop this practice. Suppose I did want to break the law and vote in Minnesota and Maryland. How do I do that? Well, I'm already registered in Maryland from high school. I move to Minnesota for college and register there as well. Then I vote in person in Minnesota, while simultaneously requesting an absentee ballot from Maryland. And thus we have our double-vote.

Making me acquire and show ID in Minnesota doesn't fix that problem. I can still attain the Minnesota ID -- as noted above I can validly claim Minnesota residency -- which means I'll still be able to vote in Minnesota. And since absentee ballots don't ever require ID (including in SC), I can send in my Maryland ballot too (or I could just vote absentee in both states for that matter). Even if we did require ID for absentee ballots too, showing ID just verifies who I am. It doesn't tell the Maryland registrar that I'm registered and/or voted in Minnesota, or vice versa -- it in fact has nothing to do with that inquiry. The double-voting problem (to the extent there is one) is not a problem of false identification, and the voter ID law is a non-sequitur with respect to solving it.

(4) So where are we left? One "problem" you alluded to in your tweets is not one, since registering to vote where one attends school is legal even if one originally hails from another state. To the extent the law suppresses those votes, it is clearly a bad thing under basic democratic principles. The second problem -- double-voting -- you concede is speculative and the law in question doesn't actually address it.

This helps illuminate one of the consistent threads in the empirical literature on voter ID laws -- that they end up blocking far more valid votes than invalid ones. Voting law expert Spencer Overton of George Washington Law School puts the proportion at 1000:1 (1000 valid votes disenfranchised for every fraudulent one blocked). The cost-benefit math doesn't add up, and we can't justify disenfranchising thousands of real voters to (poorly) address speculative problems.

YellowDog said...

I agree with Mr. Schraub's conclusions here. I read all of the tweets by wesleydonehue and it appears to be suppression of the black vote. I am not sure that is racist, exactly, but a very unfortunate tactic in winning races. And voter IDs would not prevent someone from voting in 2 states. I grew up in Minnesota and went to college in Grinnell, Iowa. I voted there (with no ID.) I didn't vote in Minnesota at the same time. Voter fraud seems like a red herring.