by John R. Lott, Jr., IMPRIMIS, a publication of Hillsdale College, October 2021 [“Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College”]
Sixteen years ago, in 2005, the Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform issued a report that proposed a uniform system of requiring a photo ID in order to vote in U.S. elections. The report also pointed out that widespread absentee voting makes voter fraud more likely. Voter files contain ineligible, duplicate, fictional, and deceased voters, a fact easily exploited using absentee ballots to commit fraud. Citizens who vote absentee are more susceptible to pressure and intimidation. And vote-buying schemes are far easier when citizens vote by mail.
Who was behind the Carter-Baker Commission? Donald Trump? No. The Commission’s two ranking members were former President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, and former Secretary of State, James Baker III, a Republican. Other Democrats on the Commission were former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton. It was truly a bipartisan commission that made what seemed at the time to be common-sense proposals.
How things have changed. How times have changed. Some of the Commission’s members, Jimmy Carter among them, came out last year to disavow the Commission’s work. And despite surveys showing that Americans overwhelmingly support measures to ensure election integrity – a recent Rasmussen survey found that 80% of Americans support a voter ID requirement – Democratic leaders across the board sternly oppose such measures.
President Biden, for example, speaking recently in Philadelphia, condemned the idea of a voter ID requirement. “There is an unfolding assault taking place in America today… an attempt to suppress and subvert the right to vote in fair and free elections.” He went on to suggest that requiring a photo voter ID would mean returning people to slavery.
But the fact is that the United States is an outlier among the world’s democracies in NOT requiring a photo voter ID. Of the 47 countries Europe today, 46 of them currently require government-issued photo ID’s to vote. The odd man out is the United Kingdom, in which Northern Ireland and many localities require voter IDs, but the requirement is not nationwide. The British Parliament, however, is considering a nationwide requirement, so very soon all 47 European countries will likely have adopted this common sense policy.
When it comes to absentee voting, we Americans, accustomed as we are to very loose rules, are often shocked to learn that 35 of the 47 European countries – including France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden – don’t allow absentee voting for citizens living in the particular country. Another ten European countries – including England, Ireland, Denmark, Portugal, and Spain – allow absentee voting, but require voters to show up in person and present a photo ID to pick up their ballots. It isn’t like in the United States where a person can say he is going to be out of town and have a ballot mailed to him.
England used to have absentee voting rules similar to ours in the U.S, but in 2004, in the city of Birmingham (England), officials uncovered a massive vote fraud scheme in the city council races. The six winning Labor candidates had fraudulently acquired about 40,000 absentee votes, mainly from Muslim areas of the city. As a result, England ended the practice of mailing out absentee ballots and required voters to pick up their ballots in person with a photo ID.
Up until 1975, France also had loose absentee voting rules. But when massive voter fraud was discovered on the island of Corsica, where hundreds of thousands of dead people were found voting and even larger-scale vote-buying operations were occurring, France banned absentee voting altogether.
On the topic of buying votes, I should point out that we in the United States did not always have secret ballots. It wasn’t until 1880 that the first state adopted the secret ballot, and the last state to adopt it was South Carolina in 1950. Perhaps surprisingly, when secret ballots were adopted, the percentage of people voting fell by about 12%. Why was that? Prior to the adoption of the secret ballot, lots of people would get paid for voting. In those days, people voted by placing pieces of colored paper in the ballot box, with different colors representing different parties. Party officials would be present to observe what color paper each voter put into the box, and depending on the color, the voter would often get paid. Secret ballots put an end to this unethical practice.
France learned in 1975 that the use of absentee ballots led to the same practice; it allowed third parties to know how people voted and pay them for voting a certain way. This same problem is now proliferating in the U.S. in the form of “ballot harvesting,” the increasingly common practice where party functionaries distribute and collect ballots.
Defenders of our current voting rules point out that in lieu of absentee voting, some European countries allow “proxy voting,” whereby one person can designate another to vote for him or her. And while it is true that 8 of the 47 European countries allow proxy voting (meaning that 39 do not), there are strict requirements. In 5 of the 8 countries – Belgium, England, Monaco, Poland, and Sweden – proxy voting is limited to those with a disability or an illness or who are out of the country. In Poland, it also requires the approval of the local mayor and in Monaco, the approval of the general secretariat. In France and the Netherlands, proxy voting has to be arranged through a notary public. Switzerland is the only country in Europe with a relative liberal proxy voting policy, requiring only a signature match.
How about our neighbors, Canada and Mexico? Canada requires a photo ID to vote. If a voter shows up at the polls without an ID, he is allowed to vote only if he declares who he is in writing and if there is someone working at the polling station who can personally verify his or her identity.
Mexico has had a long history of election fraud. Partly because its leaders were concerned about a drop in foreign investment if it wasn’t perceived to be a legitimate democracy, Mexico recently instituted strict election reforms. Voters must present a biometric ID – an ID with not only a photo, but also a thumb print. Voters also have indelible ink applied to their thumbs, preventing them from voting more than once. And absentee voting is prohibited, even for people living outside the country.
Those who oppose election integrity reforms here in the U.S. often condemn it as a means of “voter suppression.” But in Mexico, the percentage of people voting rose from 59% before the reforms to 68% after. It turned out that Mexicans were more, not less, likely to vote when they had confidence that their votes mattered.
In light of the requirements to vote in other countries, how is it that Democrats can honestly claim that requiring a photo ID to vote amounts to a burden on the right to vote, an “attempt to suppress and subvert the right to vote,” and would signal a “return to slavery”?
Schemingly, Democratic Party leaders have been pushing this year to adopt H.R.1, a radical bill that would prohibit states from requiring voter ID and require states to allow permanent mail-in voting. Mail-in voting, I hardly need to point out, is even worse, in terms of voter fraud, than absentee voting. With absentee voting, a person at least has to request a ballot. With mail-in voting, as we saw in too many precincts in the 2020 election, ballots are simply mailed to everyone. One person can request a mail-in ballot be mailed to others. A political party can request that mail-in ballots be mailed out. With loose absentee voting rules, a country is making itself vulnerable to voter fraud. With mail-in voting, a country is almost begging for voter fraud.
If the rhetoric we hear from the Left today is correct, if voter ID requirements and restrictions on absentee (or even mail-in) voting are un-democratic, then so are the countries of Europe, Canada, and especially Mexico, as well as the rest of the developed world.
Those opposing common-sense measures and reforms to ensure integrity in U.S. elections, measures such as those recommended by the bipartisan Carter-Baker Commission in 2005, are not motivated by a concern for democracy, but by partisan interests.