Two editors at Townhall, a conservative news outlet, recently touted a local NBC report that found rare instances of voter fraud in Florida. Using the report, its staff made a misguided case against individuals who oppose voter identification laws. In a March 19 article, Senior Political Editor Guy Benson wrote that the left faithfully believes that “voter fraud does not exist beyond the imaginations of racist right-wingers,” and he reduced objections to voter ID laws as “race-baiting nonsense.” Benson then tweeted that opponents of such laws “effectively support voter fraud,” inciting an online debate with Michael Czin, national press secretary for the Democratic National Committee. Townhall News Editor Katie Pavlich chronicled the exchange, insinuating that Czin’s “[failure] to condemn non-citizens voting” was somehow related to DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s position as a Florida congresswoman. Townhall columnist Kurt Schlichter echoed Pavlich’s sentiment, tweeting that opposition to voter ID was an election “strategy” for Democrats.
The argument Benson, Pavlich and Schlichter make is dishonest. While sources indeed demonstrate that voter ID laws disproportionately disadvantage groups that are more likely to vote for Democrats — including minorities, women and youth — there are many rationales against the ID mandates that are rooted in economics and constitutionality rather than race and political party.
North Carolina officials estimated that between voter education efforts and providing free photos to residents without driver’s licenses, implementing a photo ID law would cost the state about $3.6 million. When striking down Pennsylvania’s proposed law in January, a Commonwealth Court judge ruled that voter ID lacked a compelling governmental interest, unreasonably burdened the right to vote and failed to further fair and free elections. Furthermore, Republican representatives have explicitly stated that the GOP stands to benefit from voter ID implementation, invalidating Benson, Pavlich and Schlichter’s sentiment that the politics of the laws are exclusive to Democrats.
Without question, any instance of voter fraud is serious, undemocratic and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law — traditionally five years in prison when in connection with a federal election. However, occurrences of the fraud Benson noted are exceedingly rare, and the few existing cases do not warrant a policy that could potentially prevent millions of citizens from voting. According to a George Mason University study, only 58.2 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2012 election, one of the lowest turnouts among comparator nations. Legislatures should encourage — not deter — citizens to exercise this constitutional right, which Americans have valiantly marched, fought and died to protect. Benson, Pavlich and Schlichter should have considered the extensive range of voter ID opposition before they callously reduced resistance to race-baiting and petty politics.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 24 print edition. Christina Coleburn is a deputy opinion editor. Christina’s Case is published every Monday. Email her at [email protected]