By Rene Travis
As we near the Presidential election, one issue has been on talk show rotation for months: voter fraud.
Feelings on this issue have become a sign of political affiliation. If you are a Republican, you support policies that will combat the threat of voter fraud, most likely with voter identification laws that require registered voters to show a government issued identification card to cast their vote. If you align with the Democratic Party, you see these laws as a form of voter suppression that disenfranchises the elderly, racial minorities, transgendered persons, and the physically disabled.
In South Carolina this issue is particularly divisive as the state legislature is set to enact some of the most stringent voter identification laws in the country. These new regulations will go into effect for the upcoming presidential election if they receive pre-clearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires that the Federal Justice Department approve any attempt to change voting procedures in the state.
In order to figure out the best treatment for the problem of voter fraud, a cost-benefit analysis must be considered. According to data presented by South Carolina during the ongoing trial regarding the implementation of the voter identification law in our state, out of an approximate total of 2,722,280 registered voters in the state, 568,410 white voters and 297,930 non-white voters lack the identification that would be necessary to vote under the new law. That is more than three times the total number of registered voters in Greenville County. Because this law affects the practices of so many registered voters, I am leery of the way in which this law could adversely affect the democratic process.
Based on the debate surrounding voter identification laws, one might think that there is a huge problem with voter fraud in this country. This is not the case. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, you are about as likely to be killed by lightning as to perpetrate voter fraud. For many, the potential punishment for voter fraud, a $10,000 fine and up to five years in prison, far outweighs the reward of voting for those who may be unsure of their qualifications.
In the past few weeks, three different courts have ruled on voting laws. In Texas a three-judge panel struck down the state voter identification law, stating it was in violation of the Voting Rights Act. A federal judge in Ohio ruled that all voters are now able to cast their ballot in person up to three days before Election Day. In contrast, in Pennsylvania a voter identification law was upheld in federal court. The state is not under any pre-clearance regulations from the Voting Rights Act, and if the election were held tomorrow, voters would be required to show identification.
The elections in the United States are fundamentally important. We all want the votes counted in the election to be fair and legitimate in accordance with the democratic systems and ideals upon which our nation is built. That being said, I cannot in good conscience support laws that are made to combat voter fraud when the problem is so statistically minuscule and the potential costs of the proposed solution are so high.