The competing interests in voter ID cases are relatively clear. On the one hand, it clearly imposes a burden on poor and indigent voters (who trend Democratic) that may not have a photo ID on hand. On the other hand, voter ID laws are said to be necessary to combat fraud.
The problem with that purported justification is that--despite a concerted effort to make Americans feel that voter fraud has reached epidemic levels--there is little to no evidence that it is any problem at all. As Judge Evans writes in dissent:
The fig leaf of respectability providing the motive behind this law is that it is necessary to prevent voter fraud--a person showing up at the polls pretending to be someone else. But where is the evidence of that kind of voter fraud in this record? Voting fraud is a crime (punishable by up to 3 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 in Indiana) and, at oral argument, the defenders of this law candidly acknowledged that no one--in the history of Indiana--had ever been charged with violating that law. Nationwide, a preliminary report to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission has found little evidence of the type of polling-place fraud that photo ID laws seek to stop. If that's the case, where is the justification for this law? Is it wise to use a sledgehammer to hit either a real or imaginary fly on a glass coffee table? I think not.
Emphasis added. Judge Posner tries to argue that prosecutor attention may have been elsewhere, but it seems that if this was a endemic problem there at least would have been one attempted prosecution in Indiana, somewhere, at sometime.
In general, as a matter of statistics, attempting to reduce fraudulent votes (by tightening standards) will also reduce (via deterrance or rejection), the number of legitimate votes. The reverse is also true: trying to encourage more voting will likely increase fraud. But in our current state, too many votes has not been our problem. Nor, for that matter, has been too much voter fraud. As fraud gets scarcer and scarcer, the costs of enforcing rise, and returns diminish, so that new endeavors catch fewer offenders and block more legitimate voters. Voting rights expert Spencer Overton estimates that "a photo ID requirement would prevent over 1000 legitimate votes (perhaps over 10,000 legitimate votes) for every single improper vote prevented."
In a sense, this debate is a facade, because everyone knows that it's not about voter fraud as much as voter Democrats. Evans is quite clear on this, starting his opinion:
Let's not beat around the bush: The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic.
Still, normally there is at least some effort to link a purely partisan move to a real-life problem. In voter ID case, the alleged concern appears have to been literally drawn out of thin air.
Via Jonathan Adler.