Attacking the wrong problem, the wrong way

Aug. 16, 2013 @ 04:39 PM

In 2006, I walked into the Prestonwood Country Club – my polling place at the time, when I lived in Cary – and offered my driver’s license along with my voter registration card to the poll worker.

“Oh, we don’t need that,” she said, waving off the license and perusing the registration card instead.

Honestly, I was shocked. In my native Florida (granted, no great barometer for how to do politics right), I’d been expected – if not always mandated - to have my driver’s license on-hand when I went to the polls.

So, the idea of North Carolina requiring voters to show a photo ID doesn’t bother me too much. After all, many states in our union require it.

But I’m not keen at all about the limits on types of ID that voters can carry, elimination of pre-registration for young voters who turn 18 by election day, shortened early voting periods or the removal of same-day voter registration.

Naturally, Gov. Pat McCrory chose to focus his one-man video press conference on the least offensive part of the bill he signed into law, which he described as a “common-sense safeguard.”

It protects us, proponents say, from the scourge of voter fraud at the ballot box.

How rampant is voter fraud in the United States?

According to a 2012 News21 study, 2,068 cases of alleged election fraud had been documented in the United States since 2000. Of those, the study indicated, most fraud was committed via absentee ballots. About half a percent, on the other hand, were due to voter impersonation.

Go ahead and guess how many forms of ID are required to file your absentee ballot by mail.

To me, ultimately, fear of widespread voter fraud seems like a new take on the weapons-of-mass-destruction gimmick: Launching a pre-emptive strike against something we can’t prove is an actual problem. Or, in this case, when we have evidence that it’s not much of a problem at all.

McCrory and the state elections board now find themselves taken to task – and court – by the American Civil Liberties Union and the N.C. NAACP over the rest of this voting legislation. The rest of the new law obviously seems geared toward suppressing youth and minority voters.

I think we’re approaching the wrong problem from the wrong direction.

We shouldn’t be making it harder for anyone to vote. Instead, we should make it more difficult for everyone to NOT vote. If we’re going to mandate anything, why not require all registered voters to treat the right to vote like a civic duty akin to serving on a jury?

It’s worked in Australia for more than 70 years.

But Norm Ornstein made a pretty good point last year in The Atlantic about why this might not work for us: “Americans rebel viscerally against the idea of taking away the freedom not to vote, even if the consequence is simply a modest penalty or the requirement to write an excuse.”

Still, I think it would be far more productive to encourage greater engagement in the process than to continue this march toward deeper marginalization.

 

Wes Platt can be reached at 919-419-6684. Send email to wplatt@heraldsun.com. Follow on Twitter at @HS_WesPlatt. Connect on Facebook at facebook.com/wesplattheraldsun.