Research Backs Up Voter Suppression Claims, But Media Stay In False-Balance Mode

››› ››› TERRY KREPEL

The media is applying false balance to its coverage of Republican-sponsored laws that make voting more difficult. But that approach is undermined by the growing body of evidence from nonpartisan researchers showing that disenfranchisement due to new voter ID laws and restrictions on early voting is a real and growing problem.

NY Times, WSJ Employ False Balance In Coverage Of Voter Suppression

NY Times: Republicans Support Voter ID Laws And Cutbacks On Early Voting, But Democrats "Worry About What They Call Voter Suppression." From a September 9 New York Times article:

In the 2000 presidential election, a deadlock over ballot design and tallying in parts of Florida led the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, to stop a recount of ballots, which led to George W. Bush defeating Al Gore. Since then, both parties have focused on voting procedures.

The Obama campaign, for example, brought suit in Ohio over its reduction of early voting weekends used more by blacks than other groups.

Republicans have expressed concern over what they call voter integrity. They say they fear that registration drives by liberal and community groups have bloated voter rolls with the dead and the undocumented and have created loose monitoring of who votes and low public confidence in the system. They have instituted voter identification rules, cut back on early voting and sought to purge voter lists by comparing them with others, including those of the Department of Homeland Security.

Judicial Watch, a conservative organization aimed at reducing voter fraud, says it has found that voter rolls last year in 12 states seemed to contain an ineligible number of voting-age residents when compared with 2010 census data. It is suing both Indiana and Ohio for failing to clean up their rolls in keeping with their obligations under the National Voter Registration Act.

Democrats worry about what they call voter suppression. They say that voter fraud is largely a myth and that the goal of the Republican-led laws and lawsuits is to reduce voting by minorities, the poor and the young, who tend to vote more for Democrats. [The New York Times, 9/9/12]

Wall Street Journal: "Democrats Fear The Measures Will Discourage Minority Voters, While Republicans Say They Protect Against Voting Fraud." From a September 9 Wall Street Journal article:

At the same time, many states have new laws requiring voters to present photo identification. Democrats fear the measures will discourage minority voters, while Republicans say they protect against voting fraud.

[...]

Traditionally, early voting has been thought to work to Democrats' advantage, because it gives working-class and minority voters--often sympathetic to Democrats, but hard to get to the polls--a broader chance at voting. But Republicans mounted an aggressive early-voting campaign this year during a contentious governor's recall election in Wisconsin.

[...]

For Republicans, checking ID is considered a measure to fight fraud. Democrats say there is little evidence of voter fraud and that the laws are racially motivated, citing research showing that roughly 25% of African-Americans lack photo IDs, compared with 11% of all Americans.

Republican leaders say Democrats are seeking to demonize the GOP as anti-minority. "It's McCarthyite demagoguery," said Michael Carvin, a Republican lawyer involved in voting issues. [The Wall Street Journal, 9/9/12]

But Evidence Is Growing That Voter ID Laws Lead To Vote Suppression ...

Federal Court: Texas Voter ID Law Discriminates Against African American And Hispanics. A federal court recently found that Texas' voter ID law violated the Voting Rights Act because it will make it harder for African Americans and Hispanics to vote. The court stated:

[The] evidence conclusively shows that the implicit costs of obtaining [Texas state law] SB 14-qualifying ID will fall most heavily on the poor and that a disproportionately high percentage of African Americans and Hispanics in Texas live in poverty. We therefore conclude that SB 14 is likely to lead to "retrogression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise." [Texas v. Holder, 8/30/12]

PA State Election Data: Hundreds Of Thousands Lack State Photo ID Cards. A July 5 Philadelphia Inquirer article reported that 758,000 registered voters in Pennsylvania do not have the ID a new state law requires to vote, and that this could stop them from voting. From the article:

More than 758,000 registered voters in Pennsylvania do not have photo identification cards from the state Transportation Department, putting their voting rights at risk in the November election, according to data released Tuesday by state election officials.

The figures -- representing 9.2 percent of the state's 8.2 million voters -- are significantly higher than prior estimates by the Corbett administration. Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele has repeatedly said that 99 percent of Pennsylvania's voters already had the photo ID they will need at the polls in November.

The new numbers, based on a comparison of voter registration rolls with PennDot ID databases, shows the potential problem is much bigger, particularly in Philadelphia, where 186,830 registered voters - 18 percent of the city's total registration - do not have PennDot ID.

Under Pennsylvania's new voter ID law, various other forms of photo identification will be accepted at voting places in November, including U.S. passports, student identification cards with expiration dates, current military identification, and ID cards issued to government employees.

But for most voters, the Pennsylvania driver's license is the standard photo ID. The disclosure that 9 percent of the state's registered voters don't have one - or an alternative, nondriver PennDot photo ID - provides a clearer picture of the hurdle set up by the state's new voter ID requirement. [The Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/5/12]

PoliticsPA: GOP House Majority Leader Turzai Admitted Voter ID Law Is "Gonna Allow Governor Romney To Win" Pennsylvania. A June 25 PoliticsPA blog post quoted a speech that GOP State House Majority Leader Mike Turazi (R-Allegheny) delivered at the previous weekends' Republican State Committee meeting. In the speech, Turazi claimed the GOP-led legislature had gotten a voter ID law passed that "is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania." From the post:

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) suggested that the House's end game in passing the Voter ID law was to benefit the GOP politically.

"We are focused on making sure that we meet our obligations that we've talked about for years," said Turzai in a speech to committee members Saturday. He mentioned the law among a laundry list of accomplishments made by the GOP-run legislature.

"Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it's done. First pro-life legislation -- abortion facility regulations -- in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done."

The statement drew a loud round of applause from the audience. It also struck a nerve among critics, who called it an admission that they passed the bill to make it harder for Democrats to vote -- and not to prevent voter fraud as the legislators claimed. [PoliticsPA, 6/25/12]

DOJ: South Carolina's Data Indicate Minority Registered Voters "Nearly 20% More Likely To Lack DMV-Issued ID Than White Registered Voters." In a letter to South Carolina Assistant Deputy Attorney General C. Havird Jones Jr. regarding a voter ID law in that state, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez wrote::

In assessing the impact of the proposed photo identification requirements in section 5 of Act R54, we turn first to the data that the state has provided concerning registered voters within the state. The most recent voter registration data available from the State Election Commission indicate that, as of October 1, 2011, there were a total of 2,701,843 registered voters in the state, of whom 69.6% were white and 30.4% were non-white. These data also show that of the total number of registered voters in the state, 239,333 (or 8.9%) did not possess DMV-issued photo identification (either a driver's license or a non-driver's photo ID card) that would satisfy the requirements under Act R54. When disaggregated by race, the state's data show that 8.4% of white registered voters lacked any form of DMV-issued ID, as compared to 10.0% of non-white registered voters. In other words, according to the state's data, which compare the available data in the state's voter registration database with the available data in the state's DMV database, minority registered voters were nearly 20% more likely to lack DMV-issued ID than white registered voters, and thus to be effectively disenfranchised by Act R54's new requirements. We note that the voter registration data matched against the DMV database, and provided to us by the state, does not include several categories of existing registered voters listed as inactive voters, and hence, the number of registered voters without DMV-issued ID may well be higher than even these numbers suggest.

Put differently, although non-white voters comprised 30.4% of the state's registered voters, they constituted 34.2% of registered voters who did not have the requisite DMV-issued identification to vote. Non-white voters were therefore disproportionately represented, to a significant degree, in the group of registered voters who, under the proposed law, would be rendered ineligible to go to the polls and participate in the election. [Department of Justice letter to South Carolina, 12/23/11, emphasis added]

Brennan Center for Justice: Early Voting Restrictions Most Heavily Disrupts Minority Voting. The Brennan Center for Justice noted that ending early voting on Sundays disproportionately restricts the African American and Hispanic vote:

New restrictions on early voting will also have their biggest impact on people of color. Opponents of these restrictions have been particularly angered by the efforts to eliminate Sunday early voting, which they see as explicitly targeting African-American voters. Florida eliminated early voting on the last Sunday before Election Day, and Ohio has eliminated early voting on Sundays entirely. There is substantial statistical and anecdotal evidence that African Americans (and to a lesser extent Hispanics) vote on Sundays in proportionately far greater numbers than whites. [Brennan Center for Justice, accessed 9/10/12]

... And That Voter Fraud Of The Kind Voter ID Laws Would Counter Is Virtually Non-Existent

In-Person Voter Impersonation Fraud Is "The Only Kind Of Fraud" That Voter ID Laws Protect Against. As election law expert Rick Hasen has pointed out: "The only kind of fraud [voter] ID laws prevent is impersonation: a person registered under a false name or claiming to be someone else on the voter rolls." [The New York Times, 8/5/12]

Examples Of In-Person Voter Impersonation Fraud Are Infinitesimal. An analysis of more than 2,000 cases of alleged election fraud over the past dozen years conducted by News21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, found only 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation since 2000. From The Washington Post:

A new nationwide analysis of more than 2,000 cases of alleged election fraud over the past dozen years shows that in-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which has prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tougher voter ID laws, was virtually nonexistent.

The analysis of 2,068 reported fraud cases by News21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, found 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation since 2000. With 146 million registered voters in the United States, those represent about one for every 15 million prospective voters. [The Washington Post, 8/11/12]

PA State Official Acknowledges No In-Person Voter Fraud In State. In a July 24 blog post, Talking Points Memo pointed out that Pennsylvania has "formally acknowledged that there's been no reported in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania and there isn't likely to be in November" in a stipulation agreement with a coalition of civil rights lawyers currently involved in a lawsuit revolving around the Pennsylvania voter ID law. From the post:

The state signed a stipulation agreement with lawyers for the plaintiffs which acknowledges there "have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states."

Additionally, the agreement states Pennsylvania "will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere" or even argue "that in person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the Photo ID law." [Talking Points Memo, 7/24/12]

Supreme Court Plurality Found Only "Scattered Instances Of In-Person Voting Fraud." The Supreme Court plurality in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board did not find widespread in-person voter fraud, the type of fraud that a requirement that voters show identification at their polling places is meant to address. Rather, it found only "scattered instances" of such fraud. From the plurality opinion in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board:

Judge Barker cited record evidence containing examples from California, Washington, Maryland, Wisconsin, Georgia, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Miami, and St. Louis. The Brief of Amici Curiae Brenan Center for Justice et al. in Support of Petitioners addresses each of these examples of fraud. While the brief indicates that the record evidence of in-person fraud was overstated because much of the fraud was actually absentee ballot fraud or voter registration fraud, there remain scattered instances of in-person voter fraud. For example, after a hotly contested gubernatorial election in 2004, Washington conducted an investigation of voter fraud and uncovered 19 "ghost voters." Borders v. King Cty., No. 05-2-00027-3 (Super. Ct. Chelan Cty., Wash., June 6, 2005) (verbatim report of unpublished oral decision), 4 Election L. J. 418, 423 (2005). After a partial investigation of the ghost voting, one voter was confirmed to have committed in-person voting fraud. Le & Nicolosi, Dead Voted in Governor's Race, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Jan. 7, 2005, p. A1. [U.S. Supreme Court, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 4/28/08]

Justice Department Report Shows Very Few Prosecutions For Illegally Casting Ballots. According to a report by the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department, from October 2002 through September 2005, the Justice Department charged 95 people with "election fraud" and convicted 55. Among those, however, just 17 individuals were convicted for casting fraudulent ballots; cases against three other individuals accused of casting fraudulent votes were pending at the time of the report. In addition, the Justice Department convicted one election official of submitting fraudulent ballots and convicted five individuals of registration fraud, with cases against 12 individuals pending at the time of the report. Thirty-two individuals were convicted of other "election fraud" issues, including Republicans convicted of offenses arising from "a scheme to block the phone lines used by two Manchester [New Hampshire] organizations to arrange drives to the polls during the 2002 general election." In other words, many of these convictions were connected to voter suppression efforts, not voter fraud. Several other people listed in the report were convicted of vote-buying. [Department of Justice, accessed 8/2/12]

Brennan Center For Justice: Allegations Of Widespread Voter Fraud "Simply Do Not Pan Out" And Distract From "Real [Election] Problems That Need Real Solutions." A 2007 report by the Brennan Center for Justice found that allegations of widespread voter fraud "often prove greatly exaggerated." The report further found that "many of the claims of voter fraud amount to a great deal of smoke without much fire. The allegations simply do not pan out." From the report:

Perhaps because these stories are dramatic, voter fraud makes a popular scapegoat. In the aftermath of a close election, losing candidates are often quick to blame voter fraud for the results. Legislators cite voter fraud as justification for various new restrictions on the exercise of the franchise. And pundits trot out the same few anecdotes time and again as proof that a wave of fraud is imminent.

Allegations of widespread voter fraud, however, often prove greatly exaggerated. It is easy to grab headlines with a lurid claim ("Tens of thousands may be voting illegally!"); the follow-up -- when any exists -- is not usually deemed newsworthy. Yet on closer examination, many of the claims of voter fraud amount to a great deal of smoke without much fire. The allegations simply do not pan out.

These inflated claims are not harmless. Crying "wolf" when the allegations are unsubstantiated distracts attention from real problems that need real solutions. If we can move beyond the fixation on voter fraud, we will be able to focus on the real changes our elections need, from universal registration all the way down to sufficient parking at the poll site. Moreover, these claims of voter fraud are frequently used to justify policies that do not solve the alleged wrongs, but that could well disenfranchise legitimate voters. Overly restrictive identification requirements for voters at the polls -- which address a sort of voter fraud more rare than death by lightning -- is only the most prominent example. [Brennan Center for Justice, accessed 8/2/12]

Researchers Say Restrictions On Early Voting Suppress Turnout

Professors Smith And Herron: Eliminating Early Voting The Final Sunday Before Election Day Disproportionately Impacts Minorities And Young Voters. Analyzing changes to Florida's early voting laws, political science professors Daniel Smith and Michael Herron wrote:

We find that Democratic, African-American, Hispanic, younger, and first-time voters were disproportionately likely to vote early in 2008 and in particular on weekends, including the final Sunday of early voting. [Souls to the Polls study, 5/22/12, via PolitiFact]

Brennan Center for Justice: Early Voting Restrictions Most Heavily Disrupt Minority Voting. The Brennan Center for Justice noted that ending early voting on Sundays heavily restricts the African American and Hispanic vote:

New restrictions on early voting will also have their biggest impact on people of color. Opponents of these restrictions have been particularly angered by the efforts to eliminate Sunday early voting, which they see as explicitly targeting African-American voters. Florida eliminated early voting on the last Sunday before Election Day, and Ohio has eliminated early voting on Sundays entirely. There is substantial statistical and anecdotal evidence that African Americans (and to a lesser extent Hispanics) vote on Sundays in proportionately far greater numbers than whites. [Brennan Center for Justice, accessed 8/6/12]

Posted In
Voting Rights & Issues, Government
Network/Outlet
Wall Street Journal, The New York Times
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