Sunday, July 2, 2017

A national voter registry and a national gun registry

Time for a post to piss off everyone.

Trump wants every state to hand over their voter registration lists-- including party affiliation-- in what is probably an unsecured manner anyway.  Gee, why would anyone be bothered by that?  Hmmm... National lists...  Are those ever controversial?  Lemme think...

A quick recap of how we got here.  The notion of voter fraud became a prominent issue for conservatives during the George W. Bush administration.  He instructed his DoJ attorneys to find cases of voter fraud to prosecute.  Why?  Each party needs a boogeyman-- a bullshit excuse to explain why they lose elections.  You see, if everything were fair, my side would never lose!  For Democrats, it is either BIG MONEY!!!!, generally conflated these days with a misunderstanding of Citizens United, or low turnout.  Both are bullshit.  For Republicans?  Voter fraud.  Also bullshit.  Even worse, though, because money actually exists, and turnout actually is low, compared to other industrialized democracies.  Those factors just have nothing to do with partisan trends in elections.  Democrats can manage to lose, even when they have gobs of money, and turnout rates really aren't empirically correlated with partisan trends very well.  Voter fraud is so absurdly rare that when George W. Bush told his DoJ to go find cases to prosecute, they couldn't do it because they couldn't find any cases to prosecute.  So, he fired the attorneys.  It was a big scandal.  Remember when that kind of thing was a scandal?  Ah, good times, good times...

Anywho, voter fraud has been percolating around in Republican circles for over a decade as the default excuse for Republicans to explain their losses.  Then, Trump won, but got obsessed with the fact that he didn't "win the popular vote."  Why?  Even though, as I have explained, the popular vote is a bullshit concept in a system with an electoral college, Trump is motivated solely by perceived slights to his massive but fragile ego.  So, he latched onto the insane lie that there were 3 million fraudulent votes for Clinton, and otherwise, he would have "won the popular vote."

Digression:  news organizations shouldn't call this an "unsubstantiated" claim.  Even that is too generous to our psychopathic-idiot child president.  This should be treated the exact same way as Trump's good buddy Alex Jones and his batshit crazy idea that there is a child slave colony on Mars.  It is a fucking lie of massive proportion that he pulled out of his ass for the sake of protecting his fragile ego.  "Unsubstantiated," or a synonym for that, suggests the possibility that there is evidence out there for the claim.  There is no possibility of evidence out there for this claim.  It is on the level of the child slave colony on Mars.  That's how fucking insane it is.

Now, let's get into the weeds on this.  We need to distinguish between a few things:  first, there's registration fraud, which is registering to vote in multiple places, and voter fraud, which is trying to vote when you aren't legally allowed to do so, either because you have already voted elsewhere, or don't have a legal right to do so.  Registration fraud exists on a small scale, but is mostly accidental.  Someone moves, registers in a new place, and their names don't drop off the rolls in the old location.  Voter fraud?  Well, there we have to draw a distinction between in-person fraud and absentee fraud.  Absentee fraud means filling out someone's absentee ballot.  There is no way to catch that.  Period.  No law anyone can ever devise will ever catch it, except for getting rid of absentee voting entirely, and that ain't gonna happen.

What about in-person voter fraud?  Showing up at the polling place and claiming to be someone you aren't?  That's where the ID laws come in.  Here's the problem with attempting that, even without the ID laws.  What if the real person shows up too?  Either the real person shows up first, or second.  In either case, the second person showing up means a provisional ballot is created, and an investigation is begun.  The vote can't be counted unless that provisional ballot is then filed after the person who filled it out shows up at the county registrar with proper ID, regardless of whether or not the state had a voter ID law to begin with.  Oh, and that investigation?  Voter fraud is a felony.  Probability of being caught?  Low.  But, what's the benefit?

Your chances of being the swing voter in a major election are lower than your chances of being hit by a bus and killed on the way to the polling place.  So, why risk prison to cast a vote that has so little chance of mattering when it initiates that investigation automatically?

In-person voter fraud doesn't happen because it's the dumbest fucking crime ever.  Justin Levitt has been tracking every allegation ever made of in-person voter fraud, and it's almost always bullshit, and when it isn't, it's an accident.  Read for yourself.  That one is an older piece, but he's been keeping this up, and nothing changes on this because like I said, in-person voter fraud is the dumbest fucking crime ever.  If there is actual voter fraud, rather than registration fraud, it's in the absentee ballot system, and no law anyone has proposed addresses that.  This whole thing is a joke.

But Trump wants the registration rolls to look for registration fraud.  What could possibly go wrong with that?

And this has me thinking about the NRA response to national background checks and gun registries.  They are terrified of a national gun registry.  Why?  They don't want the federal government constructing a list of gun owners.  Why not?  Well, if the government decides that the gun owners are a problem, they've got a list of enemies of the state right there, and there's some history.  And now, before you call them paranoid, understand that this is exactly the fear being expressed by opponents of Trump right now about collecting states' voter registration lists.

Gee, do you think that anyone might be nervous about Trump collecting lists of every Democrat in the country?  Is Trump the kind of guy who might think of every Democrat as an enemy, and want to target them somehow?  Does he, maybe, show some kind of personal, vindictive streak?  Is there any history in this country, or elsewhere, of misuse of such data?

Why does Trump want the data?  We have no idea.  What will the administration do with the data?  Again, no clue.  The point, though, is that we have good reason not to trust these fucking assholes.

The main line among opponents of this effort is some generalized worry about "voter suppression."  To be blunt, I'm not sure what that means.  Currently, that is code for something like a voter ID law.  Voter ID laws exist in a questionable legal territory.  They exist to solve the nonexistent problem of in-person voter fraud, and impose costs on a non-random selection of the population-- the poor, who happen to be minorities.  That cost comes in both time and money.  From a legal standpoint, I don't know how you avoid calling that a poll tax, and so its constitutionality, as far as I'm concerned, relies on whether or not you believe that the problem exists for it to solve.

Do Republicans actually believe in voter fraud?  Democrats seem convinced that Republicans know it's bullshit.  Don't assume that.  Republicans, just like Democrats, need an excuse for when they lose (or don't win by a big enough margin).  Voter fraud is their boogeyman.  The fact that it is a bullshit conspiracy theory with no empirical basis is irrelevant.  It is psychologically necessary for them, just as "big money" is psychologically necessary for Democrats.  Each side needs an excuse for why they lose.  And, as I have been commenting in other posts, judges are subject to these psychological pressures too.  Don't bother them with facts and statistics when they need psychological rationalizations for their sides' losses.

Yet, handing states' data to Trump advances the cause of a voter ID not one whit.  Many states already have them anyway.  I truly have no clue what Trump will do with these data.  (Yes, "these.")  That, in itself is concerning, but what we all know is that Trump views anyone who isn't a loyal Trumpist as his personal enemy, to be destroyed.  Handing him a list of everyone in the country who isn't a loyal Trumpist?  Seriously?  Are we actually doing this?

But let's think about a national list in the abstract.  Take Trump out of the equation.  Let's think about a Trump-less world.

Ahhhhhhh...   Isn't that better?

Here's the thing about voter registration.  If you actually want a coherent system, there is some sense in automatically registering citizens to vote when they turn 18.  That makes most sense to do at the federal level, based on social security numbers, given that, ya' know, people move across state lines, 'n stuff.  That doesn't have party ID, which is what makes people most nervous about the current demand, but whether or not party ID winds up in the system depends on primary laws.

However, if you are nervous about Trump getting his grubby (but tiny) hands on everyone's voter registration data so that he can see who his enemies are (Democrats), then you understand the underlying concept of nervousness about the government collecting nationalized lists.  Including lists of gun owners.  It all depends on who is in charge, doesn't it?

But, if it does depend on who is in charge, one particular philosophical perspective is to say, no lists to prevent a worst case scenario.  The Democrats made nervous by Trump getting his tiny, tiny hands on voter registration data probably wouldn't have been as nervous about a federal list with Obama in office, but that's a problem.  The point about the design of a system is that you need to consider what happens when power is given to someone you don't like or trust.

It's about thinking through the worst case scenario.  And Trump is pretty much the worst case scenario.  If you are worried about what he'd do with a list of every Democrat in the country, your best hope is that he'd be too distracted by some petty grudge against a cable news show to do any real damage to the country.  That is the sad state of the country right now, but laws and systems need to be designed with worst case scenarios in mind.

If you are thinking in those terms, then congratulations.  You think just like a member of the NRA, worried about a national gun registry.  Here's a link to join...

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