Why needing ID to buy alcohol is not like needing ID to vote

August 23, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 23, 2016

Over a two-week stretch in late July, six courts handed down decisions suspending parts of restrictive voting rules in five states. After a three-judge federal appeals court panel blocked a North Carolina election law that it found was enacted with discriminatory intent, I posted the following tweet:

A Trump-backing Twitter user with the amusing handle TimeToupee responded, “So then the Courts should rule we don’t need an ID to fly, buy liquor, or drive.”

I answered that they would do that (perhaps it would have been more temperate to say they might do that) “if Republican law-makers kept passing travel/liquor ID laws that narrowly targeted minorities.”

My new Trump-loving friend was not persuaded. “Minorities are not targeted by voter ID laws. That is a liberal myth,” he wrote.

He was, of course, wrong, and I said so: “[T]hat they target minorities is a major reason these laws keep on getting stopped by courts.”

By way of evidence, I shared a thread from the popular Twitter commentator southpaw, a lawyer, who quoted the appeals court opinion explicitly declaring that North Carolina Republican legislators had targeted certain voting practices on the basis of race, which in this state (as in many others) is closely intertwined with party identification. TimeToupee blocked me for my efforts.

Mainly conservative legislatures have spent years passing voter-identification measures and other laws that the left characterizes as voter suppression. This is an effort to combat a problem that is vanishingly rare: An investigation into voter fraud from 2000 through 2011 by News21, a nonprofit organization based at Arizona State University, found a grand total of “2,068 alleged election-fraud cases,” or about one case for every 70,600 registered voters in the nation.

Protecting the integrity of voting is supposed to be the goal of voter-ID laws (although occasionally a Republican legislator will come right out and admit that the real purpose is to help the GOP win elections). That’s why advocates claim it’s important that every person who goes to the polls has a photo ID. But voting is hardly comparable to other situations where it’s mandatory to have identification.

In the case of flying, identification is required to ensure the security of the plane’s passengers and crew. It takes as little as one person to attempt a hijacking, and it only takes one person to claim to have smuggled a bomb past security — occurrences that can trigger massive security responses and major delays.

Someone who illicitly obtains prescription drugs can seriously harm or even kill him- or herself with an overdose. He or she can also hurt or kill other people by misusing pharmaceuticals. The same is true of a minor who illegally obtains alcohol; remember the 16-year-old “affluenza teen” whose decision to drive while intoxicated left four people dead and two others badly injured?

A patient who illicitly obtains medical treatments can be hurt or killed if they’re inappropriate for his or her condition. And someone who defrauds a medical provider can leave a doctor’s practice or a hospital — or their insurer — on the hook for potentially very expensive, hard-to-obtain treatments.

In all these cases where identification is required, there’s a very clear potential for a single person to suffer significantly or to cause others to suffer significantly. But it’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a situation in which a single person who votes illicitly can cause similar mischief.

Without evidence of there being a real problem, multiple state legislatures have passed often very sweeping laws. This is a case of the barn door receiving an extensive fix when there is no horse and, indeed, no barn, either. The sooner Americans come to grips with the facts, the sooner we can focus our efforts on fixing problems that really exist.


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