SoluProb™: Vietnam Escalation by USA


Student Author

Andrew Calloway, Chapman University

NOTE: Student submissions of soluprobs are welcomed at

ANOTHER NOTE: I posted an earlier piece on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and this student submission brings additional evidence to the discussion.

Background Narrative

After World War II, the United States was involved in a Cold War with the Soviet Union. The United States began to adopt the foreign policy of containment that was implemented throughout the 1940s-1960s. The containment policy was the effort in “trying to prevent the Soviet communism from expanding its empire.” (Rosati, Jerel A. & Scott, James M. 2014:29-32)

The containment policy was proposed in the Truman Doctrine in 1947 when containing communism in Greece and Turkey. Hodgson a political analyst described the Truman Doctrine as containing “the seeds of American of economic aid, economic or military, to more than one hundred countries; of mutual defense with more than forty of them…” (Hodgson 1976:32) Other academics believe the containment policy led to national security concerns influencing United States foreign policy for the entirety of the Cold War.

Presumed Problem

In the 1950s the United States began to worry after the creation of the People’s Republic of China and the beginning of communism in the Asian continent. This was also shown in the conflict in Korea during 1950-1953.

In February 1950, the National Security Council (NSC) passed NSC document 64 stating that Indochina was “a key area under immediate threat.” Again in 1952, the NSC passed another document on Indochina, NSC document 68. In 1954, President Eisenhower brought up the domino theory in one of his speeches, this belief was if Vietnam fell into communism, then neighboring countries in Southeast Asia will fall under communist rule as well, most particularly Laos and Cambodia. This idea brought a more militaristic approach in containing communism and increased United States involvement in Vietnam throughout the 1950s-1960s. (Kissinger, Henry 2003:13-20)

By the end of the Eisenhower administration in 1960, Eisenhower warned John F. Kennedy of the conflict of Vietnam as crucial. Eisenhower did not want the domino theory to become a reality. Under the Kennedy administration, stopping communism in Vietnam became a huge political interest, and would be considered a victory for the United States against the Soviet Union in political ideologies. According to Kissinger, by the time President Kennedy took office, there were 900 American military personnel in Vietnam, 3,164 in 1961, and almost tripled to 16,263 by 1963. (Kissinger 2003:34)

north_vietnamese_p-4_under_fire_from_uss_maddox_2_august_1964The escalation and political controversy in Vietnam began in August 1964 when news came back to the United States that North Vietnamese forces attacked the destroyer USS Maddox near the Gulf of Tonkin, this would later be called the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and led to a push for further military involvement in Vietnam by elected officials in Washington D.C. (Kissinger 2003: 35)

Solution to the Problem

The Gulf of Tonkin incident took place on August 2, 1964, two days later on August 4, President Johnson announced the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and it immediately passed on August 7, giving Johnson the authority to increase U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The Tonkin Gulf resolution gave Johnson and Nixon legal basis for implementing military policies in Vietnam since the resolution was approved by the legislative branch of the U.S. government. The resolution was passed almost unanimously, the House vote was 416-0, and the Senate vote was 88-2. The two Senators who opposed the resolution were Democratic senators Wayne Morse of Oregon, and Ernest Gruening of Alaska. (Public Law 88-408, 88th Congress, August 7, 1964)

The solution to the Gulf of Tonkin incident would become a major setback for the United States in preventing communism, and a huge drop in public opinion regarding both the Vietnam War and approval of the United States government. The signing and approval from Congress expanded the powers of the Executive branch as stated in the resolution that the President as Commander in Chief should “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States.” The next two sections of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution addresses the U. S. national interest and bringing peace and security to Southeast Asia. This later became a problem when Congress lacked sufficient knowledge of the situation and was unable to affect the military policies passed by the President later into the conflict. (Public Law 88-408, 88th Congress, August 7, 1964)


Empirical Evidence that the Problem did not exist

According to Lieutenant Commander Pat Paterson of the U.S. Navy stated that some of the information of what happened at the Gulf of Tonkin was “cloaked” and not really explained in the decision making process between the Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and President Johnson in 1964. Recent documents of classified information being released in 2005 and 2006 have revealed many facts of what really happened in the Gulf of Tonkin incident and have helped historians reconstruct the incident.

In one of the reports by the NSA it states the second attack did not happen at the night of August 2, 1964. But by 1965 President Johnson has issued air raids and bombing campaigns under the codename Rolling Thunder, the United States began to use as much force possible to end the war quickly. This proved to not be the case as much as 500,000-600,000 American troops were committed in the Vietnam War by 1969.

The war began to be costly as it became to be estimated as much $173 billion was spent, and about 58,220 Americans dead, and 1,643 missing. It is still a problem today with Vietnam war veterans suffering from PTSD. (Kissinger 2003: 36-38) (Naval History Magazine 2008: Volume 22 Number 1)

Consequences of the “Solution”

With the evidence provided, the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the increased involvement in the Vietnam War greatly changed the powers and policy making of the United States government. Near the end of the Vietnam War (1969-1973), public opinion towards the Vietnam War, along with the Civil Rights protests, led to a strong opposition and push for bringing American soldiers back to the United States. This led to Congress becoming more aggressive in its constitutional powers during times of war and conflict.

Congress became a more rational political actor during the Nixon administration, and began to analyze the cost and benefits of the Vietnam War as it was reaching its fourth US president being involved with the conflict. A hypothesis by Burstein, and Freudenburg stated that “Congress will respond to public opinion.” It must have been public opinion with its strong opposition that made Congress turn against the Vietnam War, and ignore the political decisions made back in 1964. (Burstein, Paul & Freudenburg, William 1978:99-122)

By 1969, the policy of “Vietnamization” was proposed by the Nixon administration, even though Nixon opposed the idea to an extent. Nixon feared the image of American troops withdrawing from Vietnam as a loss for the United States and a victory for the communist regimes. The resolution was passed and by 1973 almost all American troops had withdrawn from Vietnam, and that same year Congress passed the War Powers Resolution stating that the President should consult with Congress in regard to decisions that engage U.S. forces and military.

In conclusion, the Vietnam War did have its negative consequences in casualties and the cost of funding for almost two decades, but at the same time it did reinforce the Constitutional powers and limitations on both the legislative and executive branches. Public opinion also stepped in to have a say on the war with the peace protests, and how people began to pay more attention to the government and its decisions on the war as it was the first televised conflict, with live coverage.

The Vietnam War with its complexities changed the way the public and politicians view foreign intervention for the remainder of the Cold War and leading up to the 21st century. As quoted by General Fred C. Weyand in 1976, “When the Army is committed the American people are committed, when the American people lose their commitment it is futile to try to keep the Army committed.” (Summers, Harry G. 1995:11-15)


Burstein, Paul & Freudenburg, William 1978. Changing Public Policy: The Impact of Public Opinion, Antiwar Demonstrations, and War Costs on Senate Voting on Vietnam War Motions The University of Chicago Press

Kissinger, Henry 2003. Ending the Vietnam War: A History of America’s Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War Simon & Schuster Inc.

Moise, Edwin E. 1996. Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War University of North Carolina Press

Paterson, Pat 2008. Naval History Magazine: The Truth About Tonkin Volume 22, Number 1, U.S. Naval Institute

Rosati, Jerel A. & Scott, James M. 2014. The Politics of United States Foreign Policy Cengage Learning Inc.

Summers, Henry G. 1995. On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War Presidio Press

Tonkin Gulf Resolution; Public Law 88-408, 88th Congress, August 7, 1964. General Records of the United States Government; Record Group 11; National Archives

SoluProb™: Benghazi Hearings


Presumed Problem

Unusual government failures allowed a terrorist attack on the USA Foreign Service in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, which killed four Americans, including the Ambassador to Libya.


Conduct Congressional hearings to determine what went wrong and what could be done to prevent such tragedies in the future.


On September 11, 2012, and eleventh anniversary of the 9/11/2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, The American embassy in mapCairo came under attack by a mob protesting an anti-Muslim film produced earlier in California. While the Cairo attack was underway, another mob attacked the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed in the latter attack.

Sadly, these attacks and deaths were not unique in the American Foreign Service. During the George W. Bush administration alone, American diplomatic facilities experienced the following attacks, as compiled by

December 15, 2001: Kathmandu, Nepal

January 22, 2002: Calcutta, India

March 20, 2002: Lima, Peru

June 14, 2002: Karachi, Pakistan

November 9, 2002: Kathmandu, Nepal

May 12, 2003: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

July 30, 2004: Tashkent, Uzbekistan

October 24, 2004: Baghdad, Iraq

November 25, 2004: Baghdad, Iraq

December 7, 2004: Jedda, Saudi Arabia

January 29, 2005: Baghdad, Iraq

September 7, 2005: Basra, Iraq

March 2, 2006: Karachi, Pakistan

September 12, 2006: Damascus, Syria

July 8, 2007: Baghdad, Iraq

January 14, 2008: Beirut, Lebanon

March 18, 2008: Sanaa, Yemen

July 9, 2008: Istanbul, Turkey

September 17, 2008: Sanaa, Yemen

November 27, 2008: Kabul, Afghanistan

Altogether, these 13 attacks resulted in the deaths of 60 diplomatic personnel. Ten of those were given memorial plaques in the State Department. Foreign Service deaths hardly began with the Bush administration, however. Jane Mayer (2014) gives a first-person account of one of the most horrendous attacks in U. S. Foreign Service history.

Around dawn on October 23, 1983, I was in Beirut, Lebanon, when a suicide bomber drove a truck laden with the equivalent of twenty-one thousand pounds of TNT into the heart of a U.S. beirutMarine compound, killing two hundred and forty-one servicemen. The U.S. military command, which regarded the Marines’ presence as a non-combative, “peace-keeping mission,” had left a vehicle gate wide open, and ordered the sentries to keep their weapons unloaded. The only real resistance the suicide bomber had encountered was a scrim of concertina wire. When I arrived on the scene a short while later to report on it for the Wall Street Journal, the Marine barracks were flattened. From beneath the dusty, smoking slabs of collapsed concrete, piteous American voices could be heard, begging for help. Thirteen more American servicemen later died from injuries, making it the single deadliest attack on American Marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Beirut was a hotbed of anti-American hostility during the Reagan administration. Earlier in the year, the U. S. Embassy was bombed; seventeen Americans and 46 others died. In March of the following year, the CIA station chief was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered, with the terrorists providing a video tape of their actions.

These attacks led to a Congressional investigation and a report detailing the precautions needed to prevent future tragedies. However, that wasn’t the end of the story, as Mayer relates:

In September of 1984, for the third time in eighteen months, jihadists bombed a U.S. government outpost in Beirut yet again. President Reagan acknowledged that the new security precautions that had been advocated by Congress hadn’t yet been implemented at the U.S. embassy annex that had been hit. The problem, the President admitted, was that the repairs hadn’t quite been completed on time. As he put it, “Anyone who’s ever had their kitchen done over knows that it never gets done as soon as you wish it would.”

Mayer muses over how such an explanation would have been accepted by any of the Benghazi committees. While the Benghazi attack was hardly unique in Foreign Service history, the Congressional response was. The question is why?

The four diplomats killed in Benghazi in 2012 were the latest casualties in a long history of risks to Foreign Service personnel. While the Benghazi stevestockmacnattack was still underway, it was assumed that it was another reaction to the anti-Islam film, which provoked the Cairo embassy attack. As time went on and more information surfaced, it appeared that the Benghazi was independently planned and unrelated to the film. In the process of discovery, mixed reports were issued by the administration, producing some initial confusion among the public.

Critics of the Obama administration contended that there was a conscious riceeffort to tailor reports of the attack so as to avoid any responsibility by the President or his Secretary of State. Other charges indicated that Secretary Clinton had either purposely or ineptly failed to protect the embassy and mismanaged the response to the attack once it began. More radical critics even alleged Secretary Clinton knew about the attack in advance but kept it secret from the embassy staff–and when the Air Force wanted to help, she told them not to do so.

For the most part, these allegations appeared in social media with no substantiation. So, the Congress flew into action to get the facts. The Benghazi Research Committee provides a box score of the Congressional investigations so far. Here are a few of the facts.

10 Congressional Committees participated in Benghazi hearings

252 witnesses testified

62 hours of public hearings

13 published reports totaling 1,982 pages

This is not a report on a single investigation. detailed the various Congressional investigations into the Benghazi tragedy.

Investigation 1: The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

Investigation 2: The Senate Committee On Homeland Security And Governmental Affairs

Investigation 3: The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Investigation 4: The House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Investigation 5: The House Committee on the Judiciary

Investigation 6: The House Committee on Armed Services

Investigation 7: The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Ongoing Investigation 8: The House Select Committee on Benghazi

Why yet another investigation?  Leigh Ann Caldwell (2015) explains

In his opening statement, Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-South GowdyCarolina, said his committee exists because the focus of the previous seven committees that investigated the attacks were “narrow in scope.” He said that his committee’s investigations are more comprehensive, including plans to interview a total of 70 people and review 50,000 “new” documents. New documents include nearly 8,000 emails sent by Ambassador Chris Stevens, whom Gowdy called a “prolific emailer.”

On October 22, 2015, former Secretary of State Clinton testified for eleven hours before the House Select Committee. At the conclusion of the hearing, Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy famously told reporters that nothing new had been learned.

Was the Problem Real?

While the official “problem” was to discover what when wrong at Benghazi as a means to preventing such tragedies in the future, there was good reason from the beginning to think the “problem” was something else.

None in the long list of investigations produced the condemnation of President Obama and Secretary Clinton some hoped for. There was some confusion in the fog of war as the attack was going on and early reports about the attack proved inaccurate, but there was never any evidence that misreporting was intentional or a coverup.

Responsible military reported that Secretary Clinton had no role in the immediate security response on the ground, nor did she have any authority to do so. Some claimed the administration was generally inadequate in providing embassy security at Benghazi and elsewhere. This charge was difficult back up, however, as Ronan Farrow reported in The Atlantic:

 In Fiscal Year 2011, House Republicans cut $128 million from the Obama Administration’s requests for embassy security issafunding; in 2012, they cut another $331 million. [Darrell] Issa once personally voted to cut almost 300 diplomatic security positions. In 2011, after one of many fruitless trips to the Hill to beg House Republicans for resources, an exhausted, prophetic Hillary Clinton warned that cuts to embassy spending “will be detrimental to America’s national security.”

Finally, Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), being considered to mccarthysucceed John Boehner as Speaker of the House, publicly announced the real problem the investigations were intended to solve. Challenged by a conservative interviewer to name anything the Congress had achieved, McCarthy replied:

Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a hillaryBenghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s un-trustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought and made that happen.

No one was all that surprised to learn the “problem” the Benghazi Select Committee was created to solve was not the tragic death of four American Foreign Service workers but the “threat” of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. People were surprised to hear it bragged about on Fox News, however, and Kevin McCarthy did not become Speaker of the House.

Negative Consequences

A great deal of time and money were wasted in an unprecedented witch hunt. Those involved in the investigations might have been doing something constructive for the public good instead. Numerous public servants were attacked in the halls of Congress and maligned in the media.

Worst, perhaps, the memories of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Information Officer Sean Smith, and CIA agents, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were dishonored for the purpose of a political agenda.

Writing in Newsweek, Kurt Eichenwald called the Benghazi hearings “One of America’s Worst Political Outrages.”

The Republicans’ unseemly delight in Benghazi has even spread to political fundraising. There is the Stop Hillary PAC, which broadcast an ad about Clinton and Benghazi. The Virginia GOP held a “Beyond Benghazi” fundraiser where donors had to pay $75 to attend and $5,000 to sponsor the event. A blog post before the 2014 election by the National Republican Senate Committee stated, “Americans deserve the truth about Benghazi, and it’s clear Democrats will not give it to them. Donate today and elect a Republican Senate majority.”

But by far the most egregious examples of Republicans trying to raise money on the backs of the dead was by the National Republican Congressional Committee, the official GOP group that works to elect Republicans to the House. In a blog post on its fundraising website, the NRCC told supporters, “House Republicans will make sure that no one will get away from Gowdy and the Select Committee.’’ The NRCC also sent out an email that contained a link that led to part of the NRCC’s site with a URL that ended with the words “Benghazicoverup-contribute.” That page directly sought money for the committee’s political efforts under the words “You’re now a Benghazi Watchdog. Let’s go after Obama and Hillary Clinton.” Beneath that, and directly next to the suggested contribution levels, was a photograph of Clinton and Obama surrounded by the sentences “Benghazi Was a Coverup. Demand Answers.”

A word of explanation is in order regarding my identifying the Benghazi hearings as a Solution without a Problem. The death of four diplomats at Benghazi was surely a tragedy but not a problem that could be solved after the fact. As to the problem of learning ways to better protect Foreign Service employees, that had been fully addressed by the early investigations. The endless line of Benghazi committees had no more to do with improving embassy security than Voter ID laws are really intended to prevent ineligible voters from impersonating eligible ones at polling stations. Both were designed for transparently partisan advantage.

© Earl Babbie 2016, all rights reserved  Terms of Service/Privacy


Politifact,  “A List of Deadly Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Diplomatic Targets Under President George W. Bush, 2001-2009”

Ronan Farrow, “The Real Benghazi Scandal,” The Atlantic, May 16, 2013

Benghazi Research Committee, “Benghazi by the Numbers”

Clayton Youngman, “Clinton: 7 Benghazi probes so far,” Politifact, October 5, 2015

Leigh Ann Caldwell, “Five Takeaways From Clinton’s Benghazi Testimony, NBC News, October 22, 2015.

Jane Mayer, “Ronald Reagan’s Benghazi,” The New Yorker, May 5, 2014

Politifact, “In Context: What Kevin McCarthy said about Hillary Clinton and Benghazi,” October 7, 2015


SoluProb™: War on Terror


Presumed Problem

America is at risk of being invaded by Islamic terrorists who will impose Sharia Law.


We must make war on terrorists abroad and be willing to give up many of slash-terrorour freedoms to allow the authorities to fight terrorists here in America.


Elsewhere on this website, I have suggested that President Bush made a tragic mistake by declaring the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as acts of war rather than crimes. Traditionally, wars are a conflict between nations, although Americans have been quick to declare a War of Poverty, a War on Drugs, and now, a War on Terror. We even speak of a War on Women and a War on Christmas. War seems never far from our minds, when war, in almost all cases, is the most costly, least constructive solution to the problems we all face.

Clearly, we have had some difficulty identifying our enemy in the War onosama-poster Terror, since there is no Terror Republic or Union of Terror. So the War of Terror initially identified Iraq as the enemy even though they had no involvement in the 9/11 attacks, nor were they planning to make war on the USA.

Some in the USA were willing to shift the enemy to the Islamic religion, and some Muslims in the Middle East were willing to support that reframing, calling themselves the only True Islamic Caliphate.

Soon the world was confronted with a movement known in the Middle East and parts of Europe as Daesh–often translated as “to trample and silouettescrush.” It is intended as an insult and a denial of the nationhood suggested by the the term Islamic State in the abbreviations, ISIS or ISIL. Ironically, whenever we use the terms ISIS or ISIL, we are granting statehood to the terrorist movement known as Daesh by those more directly confronting it.

Was the Problem Real?

Terrorism is real, especially in the Middle East and less extensively in Europe. However, the chance that you will be killed by “Islamic terrorists” in the USA is dwarfed by the likelihood of your dying at the hands oflightning-strike_Gk8zdCIO_L “Christian terrorists,” drive-by shootings, drunk drivers, lightning, or prescription-drug overdoses. While the risk is above zero, it is tiny.

Negative Consequences

One of the early consequences of the declaration of war on terrorism was the Patriot Act, passed by Congress on October 26, 2001, with the official title of “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.” It was and remains controversial. Here are just a few of the actions allowed by the Act.

The Patriot Act allows “sneak and peek” searches of homes and libertybusinesses without the knowledge, let alone permission, or those who live or work there. Libraries can be forced to tell government agents what books you have taken from the library–and they are prohibited for letting you know that happened. The Act provides for sophisticated monitoring of telephones and emails.

“Suspected” terrorists can be arrested and held without an attorney indefinitely. If such suspects are brought to trial, those trials can be heldguantanamo in secret military tribunals. There is no guarantee of a trial by jury, no right to examine evidence, and an absense of other rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

The Operation TIPS program initially encouraged Americans to report anyone they thought might be a terrorist, though that program has evidently been cancelled. However, this illustrates the paranoia and hysteria engendered by putting the defense of terrorism on a wartime footing.

Some law enforcenent officials say the provisions of the Patriot Act have allowed them to prevent some acts of terrorism. Obviously, I am not in a bombposition to verify or deny such claims, but I would point out that criminal acts, even acts of terrorism, have been dealt with effectively prior to the Patriot Act. In an earlier post on the US Invasion of Iraq in 2003, I reminded us of the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. In that instance, President Clinton chose to frame the attack as a crime, and the existing law enforcement agents went into action. Eventually, the attackers were identified, arrested, tried, and punished. No Constitutional rights were set aside in that instance.

No one wants us to be defenseless against foreign or domestic acts of terror, but framing that defense as a War on Terror creates more problems than it solves. Except for the creation of a War on Terrorism, there would been no justification for invading Iraq, no destruction of Saddam Hussein’s heavy-handed control of radicals there, and very likely no Daesh. Thousands of American deaths and countless thousands of Iraqi deaths would have been avoided. It is hard to fathom the amount of devastation that has resulted from the “War on Terror”–so far.


© Earl Babbie 2016, all rights reserved  Terms of Service/Privacy


Global Issues

Alternet, 5 Ways the War on Terror Has Changed Your Life

Foreign Policy Journal, ISIS: The “unintended consequences” of the US-led war on Iraq

Freedom House, The Civil Liberties Implications Of Counterterrorism Policies: Full Chapter

SoluProb™: Voter ID Laws

Let me know what you think 


Presumed Problem

People who are not eligible to vote are casting votes by pretending to be people who are eligible.


Require all voters to present specified photo identification at the polling place.


“This simple action … will appropriately help maintain the integrity and fairness of our electoral systemhere in the Lone Star State,”
then-Governor Rick Perry said at the signing ceremony. The law requires voters to present a state or federal photo identification, like a driver’s license, military ID card, passport, texasconcealed handgun license or a voter card provided by the state. It does not include student IDs as a valid form of photo identification. It also requires voters who were forced to cast a provisional ballot to produce a valid piece of identification within six days of the election in which they hope to vote.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the first Voter ID law was passed in South Carolina in 1950. It was another 20 years before Hawaii enacted a similar law, and the practice grew from there. At this writing, some 37 states have such laws, varying in requirements, but all requiring some form of identification to be presented at polling places.


In April, 2012, Fox News reported a poll in which, “Overall, 70 percent of Americans say voter ID laws are needed to stop illegal voting.” They noted more Republicans (87%) supported voter ID laws than Democrats, but even a majority of the latter (52%) agreed. Obviously, concern for fair and honest elections is not a trivial matter.

Was the Problem Real?

There have been a number of studies seeking to estimate the extent of this problem. Recently Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor specializing in elections, took on the task of identifying “credible allegations” of in-person voter fraud in the USA between 2000 and 2014. He was careful to point out that he was not limiting the search to convictions or even indictments, but he included any allegation of fraud that he judged reasonably likely to have occurred. In that 15-year period, he identified 31 credible allegations—out of around one billion ballots cast. He judged that these 31 cases would have been prevented by Vote ID laws.

In another study, Brad Friedman reported 10 cases of in-person voter fraud since 2000. The website provides a context for judging the size of the problem. Examining government crime statistics, they contrasted the 9 possible cases of voter impersonation between 2002 and 2005 with 352 cases of death due to lightning and 32,299 reports of UFO sightings.

News21 did an independent assessment of voter fraud, sending “thousands of requests to election officers” and they, also, concluded that while election fraud might be a problem, in-person fraud was rare.

“The fraud that matters is the fraud that is organized. That’s why voter impersonation is practically non-existent because it is difficult to do and it is difficult to pull people into conspiracies to do it,” said Lorraine Minnite, professor of public policy and administration at Rutgers University.

In short, in-person voter frauds to be the smallest crime category in America. It is hardly worth any effort to prevent it–and “solutions” to this mini-problem causes huge problems of its own.

It could be argued, in fact, that the drive to implement Voter ID Laws is a fraud in and of itself, that it is intended to suppress the voting by specific
demographic groups, such as minorities. In 2015, in Alabama, for example, a Voter ID Law was introduced and citizens were assured they could easily obtain an official ID at anblack-votersy Department of Motor Vehicle office. Shortly thereafter, the Republican governor announced plans to shut down all the DMV offices in eight of ten counties with predominantly African American residents–known as Alabama’s Black Belt–also known  for a strong tendency to vote Democratic. The governor rescinded his plan in response to strong negative publicity.

In Pennsylvania, with a Voter ID Law instituted prior to the 2012 Presidential Election, a Republican Party official proclaimed that the new law would guarantee a Pennsylvania victory for Republican candidate Mitt Romney.By the same token, Wisconsin Congressman Glenn Gotham, a Ted Cruz supporter in the 2016 presidential race, said:

I think Hillary Clinton is about the weakest candidate the Democrats have ever put up. And now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well…

You don’t need to be cynical to suspect that honest elections have not been the real reason for Voter ID Laws. Rather than eliminating fraud, the Voter ID Laws are an example of election fraud.

Negative Consequences

Where a driver’s license would suffice, non-drivers are disadvantaged. If a concealed weapons permit would qualify people to vote, those not packing heat are at a disadvantage. Where voters must obtain the necessary ID from a state office, it is likely that elderly, poor, disabled, and rural citizens will have special difficulties getting to the designated office within official hours of operation. Whatever the nature of the requirements, it is easy to see that some eligible voters will experience more of a hardship than others. When Pennsylvania passed their 2012 Voter ID law, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Commonwealth estimated that some three-quarters of a million eligible voters lacked the required identification.

A judge blocked enforcement of Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law just prior to the 2012 election but not before the state had mailed 758,000 letters to eligible voters, warning that they lacked the necessary identification to vote. Despite the judge’s action, a post-election study by the AFL-CIO empty-voting-boothsconcluded that 35,000 eligible voters were deterred from voting by the warning anyway. They were convinced they would be turned away from the polls.

Looking at the issue more broadly, the Brennan Center for Justice concluded: “Studies show that as many as 11 percent of eligible voters do not have government-issued photo ID. That percentage is even higher for seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, and students. Many citizens find it hard to get government photo IDs, because the underlying documentation like birth certificates (the ID one often needs to get a government ID) is often difficult or expensive to come by.”
The difficulties in complying with state’s Voter ID laws have often produced dramatic stories. Consider the 90-year-old Texan, who had let jim-wrighthis driver’s license lapse and found his identification card as a Texas Christian University faculty member would no longer legitimize him as a legal citizen-voter in the Lone Star state. Ironically, the suspicious would-be voter was Jim Wright, who served 34 years as a U. S. Congressman from Texas, and from 1987 to 1989, was the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Still, you can’t be too careful.

The negative side-effects of Voter ID requirements not only weigh on the voting public, however. Such laws can be very expensive for the jurisdictions requiring such identification.

When Georgia enacted its Voter ID in 2005, they initially required voters to pay a fee for the government ID, but that was thrown out by the courts as constituting a poll tax. The consequence of that ruling was that the state moneywould have to bear the cost of providing the IDs without charge. Other states have experienced similar costs.

Karen Shanton and Wendy Underhill report that between 2007 and 2010, Indiana spent over $10 million on the production of the free Voter ID
cards. In 2010 alone, Indiana spent $600,000 on voter education and outreach to insure that voters understood the new requirements.

There is more fraud in absentee ballots and voter registration than any other categories. The analysis shows 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud absentee-ballot

Ironically, then, Voter ID laws may cause more people to seek absentee ballots—which makes cheating much easier. Imagine if you and I went to a polling place, and I explained to the poll workers that you had paid for the privilege of casting my ballot. Chances are, I’d still be in jail. On the other hand, there would be nothingabsentee2 to stop me from selling you my blank absentee ballot. Or you could hold a gun to my head while dictating how I should vote—a practice frowned on in most polling places. Or maybe you are just voting the way someone tells you to.

The various studies of in-person voter fraud indicate two things. First, we will never know the exact number of times it occurs, due to differences in definitions and data collection methods. Second, however you measure it, in-person voter fraud is a minuscule problem. Voter ID laws represent a clear case of a solution without a problem. It is a “solution” with disastrous consequences, moreover. It is a source of real problems rather than the solution to a make-believe problem. There should be no more phony “solutions” and we should undo the existing ones.

© Earl Babbie 2016, all rights reserved  Terms of Service/Privacy


Artwork from ShutterStock

Samantha Lachman, “Four Years Later, Texas Is Still Defending Its Voter ID Law,” Huffington Post, April 24, 2015 accessed July22, 2015

National Conference of Legislatures, 2014, “History of Voter ID,” 10/16/2014, accessed 4/14/2015 at

Dana Blanton, “Fox News Poll: Most think voter ID laws are necessary,” April 18, 2012,  accessed July 18, 2015

PR Newswire, “Department of State and PennDOT Confirm Most Registered Voters Have Photo ID, accessed July 22, 2015

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