A new report has debunked the primary voter fraud argument right-wing media have used for years to promote unnecessarily strict voter identification laws, which alienate eligible voters and often have the effect of suppressing the vote in minority and heavily-Democratic jurisdictions.
These kinds of voter ID laws, which require voters to present certain forms of ID at polling locations when attempting to vote, disproportionately affect people of color and can cost states millions of dollars to implement. But right-wing media have continued to promote them, especially since 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that prevented suppression efforts in states with a history of racially-motivated voting laws. As Ezra Klein noted on the August 6 edition of MSNBC's All In, right-wing media have consistently raised the specter of in-person “voter fraud” to justify their support for these redundant and highly restrictive voter ID laws.
But as election law experts repeatedly point out, the specific type of fraud that voter ID can prevent -- voter impersonation -- is extremely uncommon.
National Review Online contributors John Fund and Hans von Spakovksy have been at the forefront of right-wing media's push for burdensome voter ID laws, calling Texas's law “a good thing,” despite the fact that voters reported being turned away from the polls. Both Fund and von Spakovsky have advocated for further gutting what's left of the Voting Rights Act, making it nearly impossible for citizens who have been prevented from voting due to needlessly cumbersome election laws to legally challenge these oppressive regulations. Fund has also downplayed how difficult it can be for citizens -- particularly people of color, women, and low-income voters -- to obtain the right kind of identification needed to vote. In response to a Pennsylvania state court case that found the state's voter ID law unconstitutional, Fund called evidence that thousands of voters lacked the proper ID nothing more than an “inflated estimate.”
While evidence of widespread voter fraud has yet to surface, right-wing media figures have nevertheless insisted that “there are plenty of instances” of voter fraud and that there is “concrete evidence ... of massive voter fraud.” But according to a new study by Loyola University law professor Justin Levitt, the in-person voter fraud that strict voter ID prevents is still nearly non-existent. Levitt's study, which “track[ed] 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” found just 31 instances of this potential voter fraud between 2000 and 2014. According to Levitt, “more than 1 billion ballots were cast in that period.”
Election fraud happens. But ID laws are not aimed at the fraud you'll actually hear about. Most current ID laws (Wisconsin is a rare exception) aren't designed to stop fraud with absentee ballots (indeed, laws requiring ID at the polls push more people into the absentee system, where there are plenty of real dangers). Or vote buying. Or coercion. Or fake registration forms. Or voting from the wrong address. Or ballot box stuffing by officials in on the scam. In the 243-page document that Mississippi State Sen. Chris McDaniel filed on Monday with evidence of allegedly illegal votes in the Mississippi Republican primary, there were no allegations of the kind of fraud that ID can stop.
Instead, requirements to show ID at the polls are designed for pretty much one thing: people showing up at the polls pretending to be somebody else in order to each cast one incremental fake ballot. This is a slow, clunky way to steal an election. Which is why it rarely happens.
Photo via Flickr/VoxEfx under a Creative Commons License.