Should a libertarian support voter ID laws?

Since 2003 a number of states have passed laws requiring some sort of ID to be shown when a person goes to vote.  Proponents of the laws present them as a way to stamp out voter fraud; opponents decry the laws as a way to prevent minorities or the poor from voting, as they are most likely to not have acceptable ID.  The battles have waged not only in legislatures but in courthouses as well.  Wisconsin’s law was just struck down by a judge and Texas’ law is being challenged by the DOJ.

For a libertarian, it seems like both sides of the argument have been a little disingenuous.  Voter fraud has yet to be shown to be anywhere near as widespread as Republicans would like us to think, though this could be because it has heretofore gone undetected.  And showing a form of basic ID, often provided at no cost to the voter, is a very low bar and one that is gladly accepted when doing numerous other activities - even buying alcohol or getting into a bar.

So we are left to sit outside and try to figure out which side to take.  On one hand, for those libertarians who believe in voting, the integrity of elections is very important.  We need to ensure that elections accurately represent the will of voters.  On the other hand, though, it is important that no one is prevented from voting for illegitimate reasons.  If the laws are an underhanded attempt to disenfranchise certain groups, as opponents say, they are problematic.

To me, this whole debate comes down to a very simple factor - the cost of implementation.  I mean this in both the human and fiscal sense.  The human cost - that is, the cost in loss of convenience and determent from voting - seems minimal.  As stated above, we need ID to do many other things, and in most states Voter ID laws provide for some sort of ID at no cost to the voter.  It is simply hard for me to buy that ID is an undue burden, when we consider its relative importance and infrequency.

The fiscal sense, though, is more murky.  This is especially so because the extent of fraud is an unknown entity.  We simply don’t have a great handle on how big the problem is.  We could be, in effect, taking the proverbial hammer to a problem that simply does not warrant it.  What is clear, though, is that the laws would cost the states money.  In my state of Pennsylvania, cost estimates range from $4-11 million dollars.  As anyone familiar with Harrisburg’s problems knows, we don’t have that money just sitting around.

So consider this particular libertarian decidedly undecided.  It is a core function of government to ensure elections have integrity; but, it is also a core function to spend the taxpayer dollar wisely.  Voter ID laws have to meet a high burden of proof here that the cost is worthwhile.  Until that happens, I can’t jump fully on board with this movement.


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