Jimmy Carter and James Baker have an op-ed in the 2/3/08 Sunday New York Times. The title is “A Clearer Picture on Voter ID. Here is the last paragraph of their op-ed.
In the meantime, the Supreme Court can lead the way on the voter ID issue. It has the opportunity to inspire the states, our national leaders and the entire country to bridge the partisan divide on a matter that is important to our democracy. It can support voter ID laws that make it easy to vote but tough to cheat.
Aside from their dubious idea that the Supreme Court’s role is to inspire, their notion that “easy to vote” and “tough to cheat” go together has the tradeoff exactly opposite to what it is.
Consider a voter qualification arrangement as “efficient” if it maximizes cheating difficulty at a give level of voting ease (or equivalently maximizes voting ease at a give level of cheating difficulty). The history of government efficiency suggests that lawmakers will choose an inefficient voter qualification arrangement. Nevertheless, give lawmakers the benefit of the doubt and assume that they do choose an efficient voter qualification arrangement, so that only efficient arrangements need to be considered.
The issue is: what is a reasonable expectation considering the direction of the relationship between voting ease and cheating difficulty?
Suppose the relationship among efficient voting qualification arrangements is that increased voting ease leads to increased cheating difficulty. Then maximizing voting ease maximizes cheating difficulty. The implication is that ID cards are a step in the wrong direction because they decrease voting ease. The optimum arrangement would be to maximize voting ease, which would also maximize cheating difficulty. This could be accomplished by eliminating all voting requirements, such as voter registration, and simply letting anyone vote who wants to.
Suppose the relationship among efficient voting qualification arrangements is that increased voting ease leads to decreased cheating difficulty. Then maximizing voting ease minimizes cheating difficulty. The implication is that requiring ID cards increases cheating difficulty but decreases voting ease. In this case, it is not clear that requiring ID cards is an improvement. More generally, it is not clear where the optimum point on the voting ease – cheating difficulty tradeoff curve lies.
Jimmy Carter’s and James Baker’s comments suggest that they believe that increased voting ease and increased cheating difficulty are compatible. The implications presented above suggest that this view is incorrect.
Either Carter and Baker are naïve or they are pushing their agenda under false pretenses. In neither case should they be taken seriously.