Curbing Fraud vs. Encouraging the Vote: What is more important?

By: Robert Bryson

This post will be the fourth in a five-part series examining “voter fraud,” its impact on elections, steps taken to curb it, and it will end with an analysis of Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute which is the Supreme Court case scheduled for arguments January 10, 2018 that will determine if Ohio can use voter inactivity to send confirmation notices to that voter under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (e.g. if Ohio can purge its voter lists).[1]    

Part Four will analyze the underlying values. Everything we do comes down to our values and a balancing of costs and benefits. What you may determine as more costly or more beneficial will likely deviate from what I deem more costly or more beneficial. The goal of this piece is to drill down into why, the reader, holds a particular position.

Values Analysis: A Thought Exercise

A values analysis simplifies a problem into its basic constituent parts, creating an easy dichotomy for you to sort through. A values analysis starts by creating a simple premise to address a complex problem. The purpose of a simple premise is to remove the extraneous “noise” that can cloud a debate. The example I like to use is the death penalty.

The Premise

The following is the basic premise, these are immutable facts that you cannot change to suit your answer. Your answer must depend upon and incorporate these facts.

  • Humans are imperfect and design imperfect systems;
  • Accordingly, the justice system is imperfect;
  • Guilty people are set free and innocent people are incarcerated;
  • These results are inevitable.

The Results

If you are in favor of the death penalty, then you must accept that innocent people will be executed. If you are against the death penalty, then you must accept that guilty people (who would otherwise be executed) will be released into society.

Questions to Ask Yourself

The question then is: What is more important to you? Does the benefit of executing guilty people outweigh the cost of executing innocent people? Is the point of criminal justice to deter criminal activity? Thus, executing innocent people, while not preferable, still serves the goal of protecting society because it discourages criminal activity. Or, is the point of criminal justice to punish people for wrongful acts? In which case, executing innocent people should be avoided at all costs.[2]

Voter Fraud

We can use a similar method of analysis to examine voter fraud.

The Premise

  • Voting is a cornerstone requirement of a democracy;
  • Humans commit crime;
  • Accordingly, every election will have some fraudulent votes.
  • Humans are imperfect;
  • Attempts to limit fraudulent votes will exclude legitimate voters;
  • Accordingly, every attempt to limit fraudulent votes will exclude legitimate voters.

The Results

If you are in favor of voter ID laws, you must accept that people with the right to vote will be excluded. If you are against voter ID laws, then you must accept that some fraud will occur during each election.

Questions to Ask Yourself

So, I pose this question to you – the reader – in our democracy, is it more important to fight voter fraud or to increase voter participation? Is the point of a democracy to encourage more people to vote? Or is it more important to exclude those not entitled to vote?

Concluding Thoughts

A democracy is only as strong as the people who participate. Countries (like the Soviet Union[3]) have constitutions containing language about free speech, voting, and due process rights. But none of those countries formed a stable democracy because documents aren’t enough. The Constitution is and was groundbreaking, but it isn’t enough. What lends the Constitution power is the people’s willingness to enforce it, to believe in it.

Don’t look at the numbers and arguments but look at the values. Because, that is ultimately what this debate falls down to – do you think it is more important to suppress voter fraud (even at the expense of suppressing legitimate voters) or is it more important to tolerate a little voter fraud in the interest of expanding the number of people who participate in the vote?

I think we are all better off if more people vote, more people give their opinion, have a reason to stay informed of the issues, and feel that their voice matters. And consider this, one of the best ways to suppress voter fraud is to increase the number of voters – every legitimate vote drowns out an illegitimate vote.


[2] Remember! The point of this thought exercise is to simplify complex problems so you can understand the core issues at stake, the core values being debated.

[3] There were three versions of the Soviet Constitution and each one contained due process, freedom of the press, and religious freedoms.

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