It never fails to spur some heated discussions on both sides of the aisle when we bring up the subjects of voter ID laws and potential voter fraud. Some of the unusual suspects seem to be interested in talking about it this week, but only because a Republican supporter was involved. Such was the case earlier today when I wrote about efforts to measure the effect on turnout where such laws make it on to the books. The response from the left was both rapid and typical, summed up rather nicely (if impolitely) by one person who chimed in on a Twitter discussion I was having about national ID. (Image of one Tweet has been edited to block out an expletive, but text not edited in any other way.)

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Okay, let’s talk about that for a minute, since we hear it on pretty much a daily basis. (Thanks, Reverend Al!) We’re supposed to start from the assumption that there is no need to take any action because of the paucity of recorded convictions or reported and prosecuted instances of voter fraud crimes. It’s a compelling argument if you don’t think about it for too long. But to explain it to those who choose to engage in this argument in a way that’s easier to digest, let’s look for a moment at another crime – murder. We’ve touched on this before, but it’s worth a closer look.

What is the murder rate in a place like New York City, just for one example? It’s fairly alarming, though it’s been reported to be coming down in recent years. (And even that claim is in dispute because politics gets involved in everything.) No matter whether it’s in the hundreds or the thousands annually, it’s pretty bad. But the fact is, as one recent book interviewing many law enforcement officials notes, you have no way of knowing what the actual number of murders is. Why? Because in that one city alone, thousands of people go missing every single year, many never to be seen again. (And that’s just children!) True, some of them may be living elsewhere, in hiding or off the grid. But sadly, the odds are very high that a substantial number of them are dead and a lot of them met with foul play. But we don’t know about those cases because there was never a conviction or a case opened against an alleged perpetrator. The real murder rate in this country could, by most estimates, be three times higher than what’s reported. But if all you looked at were the people who are missing you might be tempted to think the murder rate was zero.

And in the example above, we’re talking about MURDER. This isn’t some obscure code violation like building a garage too close to your property line. It’s the one case which attracts more immediate and vigorous police and media attention than anything else when an innocent person turns up missing. It is, getting back to the original point of this, a crime that we’re actively looking out for and trying to identify and solve whenever it crops up. And yet there are probably more cases of it that are never reported than are solved. And – again – we’re really looking for it.

Now what is the key difference between murder and voter fraud? (I hope by now you’re getting the idea.) Nobody is looking for it. It’s not obvious like a person not showing up at work for weeks on end or a bloody body in the park. Somebody walks into a precinct who isn’t immediately recognized by the blue haired ladies volunteering at the desk and what happens? Nothing. You can’t know everyone who lives in the entire area. And there is no trail of evidence to follow after the fact. There are no families of the stolen vote beating down the doors of the cops. It may be true that you haven’t found many instances of in person voter fraud. But it’s also true that you haven’t been looking. Not even in passing.

It’s clearly possible to commit voter fraud. It’s also reasonable to see that there will be some number of unscrupulous individuals (and no party gets a pass here) who may have the motive to do so. So with all things being equal, why would you not want to take reasonable steps to prevent or at least hinder efforts of criminals to do it? If your town had no robberies for one entire year, would you push to repeal all laws against theft?

You say to us, “there is no proof of widespread, in person voter fraud so why are you trying to stop it?” And I say to you, there is no proof that it’s not happening either, so why would you fight so hard against preventing it?