Among his other specialties, right-wing commentator Hans von Spakovsky is a strong proponent of laws requiring citizens to present photo identification in order to vote. Conservatives often justify their call for photo ID laws by raising the specter of voter fraud even though instances of voter impersonation are rare and voter identification laws can disenfranchise poor people and racial minorities.
Now, even Spakovsky has acknowledged that nobody is claiming that there is “massive fraud in American elections.”
A New York Times article reports that a new study by NYU's Brennan Center for Justice found that voter identification and other laws “could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.” The article quotes Spakovsky saying that he "[doesn't] think anybody ... says" there's “massive fraud,” but that he is concerned about fraud in “close elections”:
“The left always says that people who are in favor of this claim there is massive fraud,” said Mr. von Spakovsky, of the Heritage Foundation. “No, I don't say that. I don't think anybody else says that there is massive fraud in American elections. But there are enough proven cases in the past, throughout our history and recently, that show that you've got to take basic steps to prevent people from taking advantage of an election if they want to. Particularly close elections.”
The Brennan Center estimated in 2006 that "[e]leven percent of the American citizens surveyed responded that they do not have current, unexpired government-issued identification with a photograph, such as a driver's license or military ID." That translates to more than 21 million American adults. That number comports with a 2005 finding by a bipartisan commission co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush adviser James Baker that about 12 percent of Americans over age 18 do not have a driver's license.
The Times reports that “South Carolina and Texas estimate that between them they have more than 800,000 registered voters who may not have acceptable forms of photo identification.”
Spakovsky disputes such numbers and has cited different studies, including one showing that “less than one-half of 1 percent of registered voters lacked a government-issued ID.” (Of course, this result excludes anyone who is not registered but wants to vote.)
If Spakovsky is wrong about the number of people affected, voter ID laws may disenfranchise millions of people, skewing the elections much more than would the minimal amount of fraud that Spakovsky wants to guard against. (And Spakovsky's evidence that there are relevant proven cases of voter fraud in the past is dubious.)
But even if Spakovsky is correct about the number of people affected by voter ID laws, some potential voters will certainly be turned away by such laws. Given that the laws disproportionately affect the poor and members of racial minorities, wouldn't the voter ID laws also have an effect on close elections?
Looks like Spakovsky has accidentally made a pretty good case against voter ID laws.