Imagine a government official stumbling across a potential problem.
He then takes reasonable steps to head it off, to be pro-active, the kind of action for which the government is frequently criticized for not taking.
The well-intentioned official believed people’s safety was at stake, though he had no proof that anyone – over decades – had ever gotten hurt from the supposed hazard.
Now imagine that his fix to this potential problem began costing businesses money, up to $20,000 each, to either adjust to this new rule or fight it in court. Not only that, it forced the government to sue businesses it did not want to take to court to force compliance, because if it didn’t, a larger number of businesses would be harmed by the noncompliance of a relative few.
Such a regulation would be criticized ferociously for creating problems where there were none.
That’s pretty much the way the regulations about pool enclosures unfolded in this area.
About five years ago, the Federal Emergency Management Agency learned that some hotels used the enclosures during the offseason so tourists could still use the outside pools. Though no one had ever been hurt by them, FEMA was worried that the enclosures could break away in a large storm and damage nearby buildings – even though they were only used after hurricane season had ended.
Fortunately, the regulation has recently been changed.
It is easy to see how someone could have gotten hurt by the enclosures, in the abstract – just as it is easy to see how widespread voter fraud might happen, in the abstract.
Just as there was no evidence that there was a problem of safety with the pool enclosures, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Just as an unnecessary solution to a non-existent problem forced hotels to cough up money and lose business, voter photo ID laws are threatening the ability of millions of Americans to have their vote counted, potentially half a million in just 10 states that could help decide November’s election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy department of New York University Law School. And just as the wrongheaded pool enclosure regulations forced Myrtle Beach to sue businesses – and waste more taxpayer dollars – the wrongheaded photo ID laws have forced the federal government to take a number of states to court – and waste more taxpayer dollars – including South Carolina and Pennsylvania, a state that just admitted in court documents there is no evidence of voter fraud.
We won’t know until November if the new laws that have been implemented in more than a dozen states that demand new photo IDs, restrict Sunday voting and reduced registration efforts, among other things, will have a significant impact on the outcome. It could affect South Carolina’s election, depending on how challenges to it are resolved in court. Critics of the laws believe they will; supporters are certain they won’t.
But we already know that the push for these new laws has set a precedent that supporters may come to regret.
The new standard for adding regulations is that proof of an actual problem in need of a solution is no longer needed.
In the coming years, the only thing those in power will have to argue is that they have a hunch that something, some time down the road might go wrong, and they need additional power to address the mere possibility it might become reality.
The argument has been successfully used today to implement more restrictive voting laws.
In what ways will it be successfully used tomorrow?
Contact ISSAC J. BAILEY at 626-0357, email@example.com or at Twitter.com at @TSN_IssacBailey.