The big conservative lie on "voter fraud"

Take the recent story out of California about how 1,500 people were wrongly registered to vote through the state’s motor-voter program. On first blush, this sounds like a big scandal that could have set up a major case of voter fraud in the state — until you pause for half a second and realize, first, that it was a mistake and so not at all an example of fraud (which requires intent); second, that there’s no evidence that anyone has actually voted inappropriately based on the mistake; and, third, that even if all 1,500 people did end up voting, this is an infinitesimally small number in the context of California, where over 13 million people voted in the 2016 presidential election.

In response, Republicans will likely say that even one case of voter fraud is too many: The franchise is civically sacred and must be protected at any cost!

But is that really true? Most of us recognize that tough-minded policing and prosecution can do a lot to lower the crime rate — but also that at a certain point the cost of pushing a low rate all the way down to zero is too high, not just in budgetary terms but in terms of civil liberties and the overall quality of life. So we choose to live, quite reasonably, with the lowest rate we can achieve without having to pay those costs — because most of us agree that having to live in a police state is simply too high of a price.