Monday, May 12, 2014

Voter ID vs. National Firearms Database: FIGHT!

Map By Strength of Gun Laws

Map By Voter ID Laws

Charles Cook, writing at the National Review Online, has a question for you gun-rights guys: How come you want Voter ID laws--a registration, proof of ID, and barrier to access--but not the same thing for firearms? Isn't that inconsistent? Oh, wait, sorry: He's asking lefties why they want registration for guns ... but not voters.
Nevertheless, strong as these arguments are, they are typically deployed by their champions with a quite appalling inconsistency. Why, I wonder, are voter ID’s recusants so deafeningly silent when it comes to the stumbling blocks that are constructed in front of other constitutional rights, including ones that are literally and explicitly enumerated? As the Supreme Court has now rightly confirmed, the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, and, however the future jurisprudence fills in the blanks and defines the scope of that right, it remains immutably, unassailably, incontrovertibly true that all law-abiding Americans enjoy the right to buy and to own firearms and, by extension, that governments at every level are prohibited from restricting that right. And yet they damn well do, all the time, and to nary a squeak from the anti-voter-ID crowd. Pray, why?
One would have a lot more sympathy for the discontents if they would demonstrate a little consistency.
He has a point--whichever way you slice it (Wait, what part of Shall Not Be Infringed do you fail to understand, Omnivore!?)--the idea that modern, civil society places barriers to access on certain rights does, in fact, not seem to be evenly applied by the left and right--at least in terms of raw principle.

You can say "no one has ever slaughtered a kindergarten class with a vote" and that's true as far as it goes--but The Omnivore thinks a pretty good case can be made that bad votes kill a lot of people--and maybe even an entire country destroyed. Certainly American voting patterns get a lot of people killed overseas, no? The most die-hard Liberal ought to agree with that.

In fact, thus far, The Omnivore can't think of a specific principle that separates voting rights barriers to access from firearms (sure, the 2nd Amendment is pretty clear if you discount the whole militia thing--and voting rights are NOT enumerated in the Bill of Rights--but that doesn't mean that voting isn't an actual right, and so on).

What it seems to boil down to is  jurisprudence. Most people agree that civilians should not be able to own, say, chemical weapons ... machine guns ... anti-tank rockets--and so on: There do seem to be some infringements on the 'Right To Bear Arms' as established by courts. Similarly, the courts have rules at various times that there are legitimate (you have to be a citizen) and illegitimate (the whole women-can't-vote thing) restrictions on ballot access.

As The Omnivore isn't a constitutional lawyer (The Omnivore looked into it: It turns out there are like whole college courses and stuff you have to take and it's an actual specialty profession. Who knew?? It sure looked like just reading the Constitution, Wikipedia, and claiming you read The Federalist Papers was all it took, judging from on-line debate) The Omnivore will therefore recuse himself opining on the actual legal distinctions between the two and will instead look at the practical consequences of the debate.

NOTE: The Omnivore does not support a national gun database* even if it might be proven to be a "good idea" (by some measures) at this time. The Omnivore doesn't support Voter ID (it seems largely ineffectual) but DOES support a smart clean-up of voter registration rolls.

Voter ID vs. Gun Registration

It's actually a shorter comparison than you might think: we're limiting ourselves to:
  1. A National Database of gun owners. Every sale will include the serial number of the gun and the buyer. Sales or trades should be registered (exactly what the penalties are for not doing this isn't specified here--and existing weapons are assumed to be grandfathered in just to make it reasonable).
  2. A clean-up of the registered voter rolls to make sure everyone on them is alive and a citizen.
NOTE: Voter ID is (for this post at least) the functional equivalent of an Assault Weapons Ban: It does solve "a problem" but it is (a) one of the most ineffectual ways about solving it, (b) the problem is mostly hypothetical or very rare, and finally, (c) it cannot be proven to work. We'll discuss it--but as an aside.

The case for a National Firearms Registration database is pretty straightforward (although, notably, almost no one of any importance is currently calling for it): When law enforcement recovers a firearm it's pretty darn hard to figure out who purchased it (and that's assuming it was purchased legally, from a gun-shop, and remains with its original owner). While it's not clear how material ownership is of guns recovered in criminal investigations (they performed 344,447 traces in 2012. Is that a lot? It kinda sounds like a lot ...), one can presume that there would be some significant benefit to having a place to start the investigation.

Similarly, for voter registration, the argument is simple: when you go to vote, the primary method the United States of America has for stopping illicit voting is checking to make sure you are on the voter-roll. We'll get into this more in a second too--but basically? If you care about the integrity of voting in the US--whether you are Liberal or Republican--you want the voter rolls to be accurate at the time the polls open.

Digression 1: Assault Weapon Ban vs. Voter ID

'Assault Weapon' is the term for a rifle that looks like an Assault Rifle, an actual, for-real piece of military hardware that it is generally illegal to own. The Assault Weapon has the same 'form factor' but, notably, is not capable of fully automatic fire (where one depresses the trigger and empties the entire magazine or 'clip,' if you are a liberal). While the 'rock and roll' setting is almost never used in real combat by real troops to actually directly kill people (The Omnivore has fired these things on full auto and trust The Omnivore, it doesn't do anything for your accuracy) it is is handy for some kinds of suppression fire and would have use in the hands of maniacs firing into dense civilian crowds (if Laughner had an assault rifle instead of a pistol he would've killed a lot more people and Giffords would likely not have survived her head-wound--so says The Omnivore, anyway).

Banning 'Assault Weapons' basically makes it hard to get a weapon that functions like an ordinary rifle (there are guns with the exact same capabilities as an assault weapon that are not banned).

The purpose of an AWB is to make it hard for would-be mass murders to get a potent, lethal weapon. It does, in fact, kinda do that (it makes it harder than just going and buying one in the store) but it is about the clumsiest way possible to do that and hurts legitimate owners who want one.

Voter ID has a similar problem: the idea is that it stops people from showing up and voting as someone else (a dead person?) by requiring all voters to show ID. A Philadelphia voter ID check showed that some 9% of the voters don't have the Department of Transportation photo ID required. That's a massive number. The number of actual Voter ID impersonations (which is what this stops)? Nationwide?

Next to nothing. This is the least common form of noted voter fraud. It also hits large portions of legitimate minority voters trying to stop a few bad-apples.

Now, that's not to say that voter fraud isn't happening--just that where it's happening is Absentee Ballot fraud and Registration / Casting ineligible vote fraud--not impersonation. In other words, like the AWB, it's disproportionately hitting the legitimate segments of the population.

National Firearms Database: Pro & Con

For Gun Registration (a large national database of gun serial numbers and the people who bought them with some kind of rule about keeping it updated--maybe) the case (above) is that it (a) makes LEO jobs easier to investigate when a gun is recovered, (b) might lead to "more responsible behavior" on the part of (some) gun owners as they know they can be traced--so they might lock those suckers up better, (c) may lead to more "responsible" behavior on the part of gun sellers since they know the gun they bought can definitely be traced to them so they want to be sure that whoever they sell it to is either legit or they want to make the sale official so that the registry now points to the new person.

These are all not-bad reasons to have such a database.

The Con is that registration is the first step towards restriction by the government (plus the practical matter of what to do about existing weapons, of course--but you could assume they don't count for purposes of this hypothetical). In this case, the ATF and the US Government want the database so that they know where to go when they want to take your guns. It can also be used to check to see if you have guns if you are diagnosed with a medical condition that is reported to the Federal Government (Obamacare) like violent schizophrenia or the medical condition known as homophobia (AMIRTIE?).

These are fairly conspiracy-tinged reasons not to want such a registry--but thanks to the 2nd Amendment no one, presently, has to explain themselves.

Let's add another set of data:
  • About 80 people per day are killed by guns
  • Stolen guns account for only about 10-15% of guns used in crimes. There are many other ways that criminals obtain the guns they use. These are things like straw-purchases (where in a guy who can't get a gun has someone else buy it for them--which is illegal), parking-lot trades and buys, and outright purchases from illegal dealers.
  • In mass shootings, most shooters obtain their guns legally.

Net Conclusion: It appears to The Omnivore that there is a real issue with criminals being able to get guns through channels honest gun dealers would not sell to them (i.e. a Facebook gun trades and sales) where, if there were a National Firearms Database the seller might not be willing to give them a gun (I will not sell my legal gun in my name to a sketchy guy in a parking-lot if I know the gun will trace back to me). Whether this 'good' is BETTER than the various 'bads' (not being able to freely sell my firearm, eventual government confiscation, etc.) is up to the reader, of course, but The Omnivore finds there IS an argument for a National Firearms Database that presents a real potential benefit.

Voter Roll Clean-Up: Pro & Con

The conservative position when it comes to voter fraud is (a) it's wide-spread, (b) vastly Democratic, and (c) involves a lot of illegal immigrants voting (either by fraudulently registering via Acorn and similar or showing up to vote as a dead person since you don't have to show ID). Liberals say this fraud is numerically immaterial so there are two possibilities for the disagreement about how bad voter fraud is:
  1. Voter fraud is essentially undetectable and leaves no trace.
  2. No one is looking very hard for voter fraud.

Voter Fraud Leaves No Trace?

Voter fraud definitely leaves a trace. To understand how voter fraud is investigated, we have to understand how voting works in the first place. Here are the salient points for most kinds of fraud:
  1. Every registered voter has a history of their appearance at the voting place. If I'm a registered voter and I show up and vote? It's recorded. Thus, a full check of the votes can and will discover:
    • Dead people voting. An investigator can check each listed voter against a time-of-death. This will identify dead voters accurately.
    • Double voting. If someone votes in two places you can see that. There are systems that check this across multiple states (how well they work has been debated).
    • A "truck load of illegals" showing up to vote (and doing this in several places throughout early voting) won't work even if Id is not required. In order for this to work, each 'illegal' must either know the name of a specific legitimate voter (ideally dead) to impersonate and hope no one at the polling place knows the deceased.
  2. Ballots are numbered and have a chain-of-custody for them. The number of ballots issued must match the number of cast votes. This means that "finding a bag of ballots in a box" by itself won't work. You have to compromise the entire chain of custody from the front-office to the counting station under observation from both parties.
  3. Voter rolls are, currently, messy. There are a lot of potential errors that can lead to false positives (such as moving, a clerical error in the initial entry, a clerical error in the voting booth, etc.)
What this means is:
  • Fraud leaves a trace: If people are voting multiple times or the dead are voting, you should be able to investigate and find proof.
  • Initial surveys are often misleading: There are numerous ways for examinations of voting records to show, at first glance, large-scale problems that, under close examination, go away.

No One Is Looking Very Hard?

To the contrary: it should not boggle the mind to learn that conservatives are, indeed, looking very, very hard for wide scale evidence of voter fraud. Here we go (From
Obama Likely Won Re-Election Through Election Fraud (Nov 11, 2012)
So how did Romney lose a race that numerous reputable polls and pundits predicted would be an easy win, based on historical patterns? The most realistic explanation is voter fraud in a few swing states. According to the Columbus Dispatch, one out of every five registered voters in Ohio is ineligible to vote. In at least two counties in Ohio, the number of registered voters exceeded the number of eligible adults who are of voting age. In northwestern Ohio's Wood County, there are 109 registered voters for every 100 people eligible to vote. An additional 31 of Ohio's 88 counties have voter registration rates over 90%, which most voting experts regard as suspicious. Obama miraculously won 100% of the vote in 21 districts in Cleveland, and received over 99% of the vote where GOP inspectors were illegally removed.
Of course ... on May 24th 2013 ... From the Columbus Dispatch ...
Fraud just a tiny blip of 2012 vote
0.002397 percent.
That’s how much voter fraud there was in Ohio last year, according to a report released yesterday by Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted. Out of about 5.63 million votes cast in a presidential election in this key swing state, there were 135 possible voter-fraud cases referred to law enforcement for more investigation.
This is because what looks like voter fraud at first, under investigation turns out not to be. In numerous states serious investigation has come up empty. In PA, after an 18 month investigation:
Pennsylvania's Democratic leaders charged that the law was a cynical attempt by Republicans to hold down balloting by seniors, minorities and other Democratic-leaning groups in the last presidential election. Republicans called it an election-security measure, though administration officials acknowledged that they knew of no examples of voter impersonation.
Indeed, they couldn't find one case.

Right now there are an alleged 750k cases of voter fraud from North Carolina under investigation right now. The problem is (and this is Fox News I'm linking to):
However, other states using the cross-check system have yielded relatively few criminal prosecutions for voter fraud once the cases were thoroughly investigated.
Only 11 people were prosecuted on allegations of double-voting as a result of the 15 states that performed similar database checks following the 2010 elections, according to data compiled by elections officials in Kansas, where the cross-check program originated.

Cleaning Up Voter-Rolls

This gets to the heart of the matter: the issue isn't double-voting (which can be caught by reconciliation) or voting as a dead person (which Voter ID would prevent) or "truck loads" of unregistered illegal aliens showing up to vote en mass. The problem is people who ought not to vote being on the voter rolls. There definitely are some

Unfortunately, these also follow a repeating pattern--when examined, the results tend to go like this:
  1. MAR 2011: GOP says 5000 non-citizens voting in Colorado a wake-up call for states!
  2. MAR 2011: On Michelle Malkin's blog "Did I say develop a plan to fix the problem? I meant pretend it doesn’t exist. Expecting congressional Dems to seriously address this problem is like waiting for Michael Moore to permanently seal off the tunnel between his basement and the fry vat at McDonalds." Ha!
  3. OCT 2012: OOps. And a viral video uploaded to YouTube in late September showed a young woman who worked for Strategic Allied Consulting registering voters in Colorado and admitting that she was only looking for Republicans. "Well, I'm actually trying to register people for a particular party. Because we're out here in support of Romney, actually," the woman said.
  4. AUG 2013: Uhhhh. Garnett speculated to the Daily Camera that Gessler needed to produce examples of voter fraud because of his public preoccupation with rooting out illegal voters before the 2012 elections. Last year, Gessler sent nearly 4,000 letters to Colorado voters questioning their U.S. citizenship. The purge resulted in only 16 voters withdrawing from the rolls and nearly one-third of those contacted responding that they were citizens.
Or this:
  1. MAY 2012: More than 200,000 Florida Voters May Not Be Citizens!
  2. SEPT 2012: State Names 198 Non-citizens illegally registered to vote (only 38 ever voted) ... and finally ...
  3. APR 2014: Court Rules Florida Voter Purge Illegal (They incorrectly removed two citizen voters from the list)
So, look: the process is far from perfect, but what if we got a good polling outfit and some hot technical expertise to look into a good process? What if we called it the Electronic Registration Information Center (PEW + IBM). The point is that analyzing voter rolls is the right way to handle this sort of problem--not witch hunts driven off bad data or polling station shenanigans

Net Conclusion: While some may argue that any attempt to purge the rolls may disenfranchise legitimate voters (as seen above), a best-effort attempt that is done in an intelligent data-driven way seems hard to argue with. Voter ID sounds good--but comparatively it offers almost no real benefit and has the air of Jim Crows laws about it which should surprise no one (Rand Paul shouldn't get credit for being surprised to learn Voter ID is seen as racist--we should wonder just how gullible he thinks we are for rolling out that 'discovery').

* This is a place to put a few things of note.
  1. The Omnivore has seen a suggestion for a national firearms database that is encrypted and can only be accessed via serial number (so you can't just say "give me everyone in Delaware with a gun. That, could it be verified, seems like it would solve the conspiracy theories so, okay. But the real problem is how do you deal with private transfers and existing guns--and those issues are real, complex, and sticky (maybe only for certain kinds of weapons? Only for certain years?
  2. As far as Assault Weapons go, The Omnivore is interested in two arguments that they are, in fact, more dangerous than equivalent weapons of a different profile. The first is that things like the pistol grip make them easier to wield and thus more dangerous--if only by narrow margins. Possible, The Omnivore guesses--but unproven. The second is that the symbolism of the Assault Weapon is actually important to being used in massacres (note that there's also a 'dress code' for those sorts of affairs--and that isn't accidental or purely tactical). Perhaps the whole "Man-Card" thing (the marketing strategy for Bushmaster) speaks specifically to people who are inclined to do those things. The Omnivore allows this is also possible if unproven.


  1. A few points to consider:

    1) The rapid proliferation of tech such as 3-D printing and other forms of microscale fabrication is going to render any attempt at a weapons database futile within 10-15 years. This has already been demonstrated by Cody Wilson, among others. And the number of extant weapons is already so large that the grandfather exemption you posit makes the whole exercise pointless absent a massive increase in (legitimate) weapons manufacture.

    2)I think there's little doubt that while voter-ID initiatives may have some prima facie merit, in recent practice they've been nothing more than a smokescreen for the attempted disenfranchisement of potential voters who happen to skew heavily Democratic. To claim otherwise would be disingenuous at best. The data you cite tells the story: bona fide retail election fraud is extremely rare, and upon examination suspected cases nearly always fail to prove out; they tend to be in the category of legitimate mistakes, out-of-date address info, and the like. So I'm with Omni in that I have no desire to illegitimately disenfranchise - or even inconvenience - tens of thousands of people who've done nothing wrong, in order to catch a handful of actual crooks. The political calculus just doesn't work for me.

    3) Far more worrisome, yet not mentioned here, is the issue of wholesale election fraud. I think that we should never have permitted the privatization of our vote-counting apparatus - you don't have to be a conspiracy nut to find a great deal that's disturbing about the last several national elections. Walden O'Dell's infamous letter in August 2003, essentially saying that he and his company were committed to having the state of Ohio deliver its electoral votes to George W. Bush, should have resulted in his immediate termination and removal from Bush's reelection campaign (for stupidity as well as a blatant conflict of interest), yet it did not. He would remain in his position until forced out by the fallout from an SEC insider-trading investigation two years later. It's important to keep in mind that a lot of what sustains nations (and economies) are people's faith in them, and such blatant disregard for the actual expressed will of the people is a major threat to that faith. Once a government has squandered its legitimacy, things can turn ugly with frightening speed.

    -- Ω

    1. 1. The Omnivore supposes that 3D printing will perfect sex-toys LONG before it perfects firearms. While 10-15 years is a maybe, it may take even longer before anyone can make a fully automatic fleshlight in their own home.

      2. If you look at who wants voter ID, where, and (when they think they're among friends) why, yes--it's pretty obvious that the main drivers are (A) tactical advantage and (B) playing to the base's paranoia. That doesn't mean we don't need good voter rolls though ... and it's a reason to use something like the PEW-IBM solution as a non-partisan solution to cleaning them.

      3. The Omnivore doubts that, despite the tasty theory, there has been wholesale election fraud at the machine level. The actors seem unlikely to have elected Obama twice in any event.

      Worse will be when entirely fair elections are held over the internet and President Rick Astley rules over America with an iron fist.

    2. I think there's a lot of credible evidence of wholesale election fraud at the precinct aggregation level. Harri Hursti performed some experiments demonstrating that several models of tabulating machines were trivially hackable in ways which left no audit trail, and there's enough documentation on Black Box Voting, among others, to fuel formal investigations if anybody cared to do so.

      And no, I think Omni may be barking up the wrong tree wrt Internet election results: Grumpy Cat would likely score a plurality there. And there are a number of serious Constitutional objections to a rickrolled Presidency: Article 2, Section 1 comes to mind, and of course, a President who can never [be given] up clearly violates both the letter and spirit of the 22nd Amendment.

      Still, it's a shame that untold millions of YouTube views only translated to $12 in royalties. Something's wrong with that model!

      -- Ω

  2. Person should be sentenced in prison if found in possession of illegal firearms and ammunition. Most of the crimes are committed with illegal guns and criminal get the gun fro black market so illegal gun possession should be controlled.