A recent study indicated that viewers of Fox News are far more likely than viewers of other TV news to believe that voter fraud is a more significant problem than voter suppression, an unsurprising finding given the network's misleading reports on voter ID laws and in-person voter fraud.
Right-wing media have repeatedly defended the need for strict voter ID laws while denying the reality of voter suppression -- particularly in the run-up to the midterm elections. On the November 2 edition of America's News HQ, National Review Online contributor Hans von Spakovsky argued that it was “not true” that strict voter ID laws can “suppress minority voters,” even though there were already concrete examples of people of color, women, and the poor being turned away from the polls this past election because they didn't have the type of identification required to vote. Even though a federal court has called one voter ID law an "unconstitutional poll tax," right-wing media have previously called such restrictive ID requirements "a good thing."
Fox News was back on the supposed harmlessness of strict voter ID again on the November 12 edition of The O'Reilly Factor. Host Bill O'Reilly rejected a federal court's uncontroverted finding that implementation of Texas' new voter ID law “may prevent more than 600,000 registered Texas voters (about 4.5% of all registered voters) from voting in person for lack of compliant identification,” as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her dissent from the Supreme Court's refusal to block the law. O'Reilly's guest, fellow Fox News host Eric Shawn, concluded that Ginsburg's prediction was "[n]ot true" because a roundup of disenfranchised voters compiled by the Brennan Center for Justice listed only “about 12” instances of voters being turned away in Texas:
Segments like the one on the Factor might explain why viewers of Fox News disproportionately believe that voter fraud is a bigger problem than voter suppression, despite evidence to the contrary. As Talking Points Memo reported, a new study from the Public Religion Research Institute suggests that “people who consider Fox News their most trusted TV news source say that 'people casting votes who are not eligible to vote' is the bigger problem while most people who trust other news stations (CNN, broadcast news, or public television) say that eligible voters who are denied the right to vote is the bigger issue in voting today.”
But according to the federal court judge who struck down the Texas law that O'Reilly and Shawn were discussing, “there is some question whether a change in the law was required” since there have been only four instances of in-person voter fraud, and only two of those occurred before the voter ID law was passed. Even if it were true that only 12 Texans had been prevented from voting due to the state's onerous ID requirements, that's still more specific instances of suppression than fraud -- of which Shawn offered zero examples. As Emily Badger of The Washington Post has pointed out, it is strange that anyone would accept the creation of an election problem that is bigger than the problem it is ostensibly meant to solve:
What stands out about this argument is the idea that any disenfranchisement would be OK, when a central rationale for voter ID laws in the first place is that any voter fraud is not.
Researchers have repeatedly documented that voter fraud -- especially of the kind that might be caught by ID laws -- is exceptionally rare. The supporters of ID laws don't always dispute this. But they often say, as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker does here, that the scale of fraudulent voting is irrelevant.
If you're absolutist about elections and feel that a single case of voter fraud averted by ID laws justifies their existence, then it doesn't add up to also argue that any number of people disenfranchised by the creation of those laws is just the cost of protecting democracy.
In-person voter fraud -- the only type of fraud that strict voter ID would prevent -- is virtually nonexistent. A recent study looked for “any specific, credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix” and found just 31 potential instances of fraud out of 1 billion ballots cast since 2000.
Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that new voting restrictions impacted more than just 12 voters and that it may have affected the outcome of close races. According to the Brennan Center, “in several key races, the margin of victory came very close to the likely margin of disenfranchisement.” In North Carolina, which enacted the country's worst voter suppression law almost immediately after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Sen. Kay Hagan (D) was defeated by Republican Thom Tillis by just 48,000 votes. As the Brennan Center explained, North Carolina's new voting restrictions -- which eliminated same-day registration and early voting -- could very well have influenced the outcome of the Senate race:
Some numbers from recent elections suggest that the magnitude of the problem may not be far from the margin of victory: In the last midterms in 2010, 200,000 voters cast ballots during the early voting days now cut, according to a recent court decision. In 2012, 700,000 voted during those days, including more than a quarter of all African-Americans who voted that year. In 2012, 100,000 North Carolinians, almost a one-third of whom were African-American, voted using same-day registration, which was not available this year. And 7,500 voters cast their ballots outside of their home precincts that year.
There were also a high number of calls made to the Election Protection hotline, a project of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, from voters who ran into obstacles attempting to vote. According to The New Republic, a large volume of calls came from Texas and Georgia, states with strict voter ID laws. Policyshop, progressive think tank Demos' blog, explained that the turnout data for these states is troubling because “on average, states with a photo ID law had 4.4 percentage points lower turnout than those that did not.” The post also stated: “Given that voter ID laws are generally passed in states with competitive races, we would expect to see higher turnout.”
It may be impossible to ever know how many voters were actually disenfranchised in the last election or how many were turned away as a direct result of strict voter ID laws. But as MSNBC's Zachary Roth reported, even though “nobody knows” how many eligible voters were prevented from casting a ballot, there is “no serious doubt that the number of disenfranchised voters exceeds the amount of fraudulent votes the law stopped.”