National Review Online Now Totally Confused In Its All-Out Push For Strict Voter ID

In its most recent effort to defend discriminatory and unnecessary strict voter ID laws, National Review Online has resorted in the past week to recycling debunked myths about this type of voter suppression, most recently linking voter ID to noncitizen voting, which is an unrelated issue.

With the midterm elections coming up, right-wing media are aggressively lying about voter ID laws and voter fraud, and NRO is no exception. NRO has previously praised Texas' strict voter ID law -- which has been found to be racially discriminatory in both intent and effect -- called for the remaining protections available under the Voting Rights Act to be repealed or limited, and dismissed concerns over Wisconsin's voter ID law, which has the potential to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters when it goes into effect.

In just the past week, NRO writers have doubled down on nearly all of these poorly supported right-wing positions. National Review editor Rich Lowry defended Texas's strict voter ID law -- which a federal judge determined to be an “unconstitutional poll tax” -- by arguing that the disenfranchisement these laws cause is justified by the potential for in-person voter impersonation, even though that kind of fraud is virtually non-existent. Lowry also incorrectly claimed that strict voter ID laws require the same level of identification needed to buy a gun. NRO contributor Hans von Spakovsky wrote in The Wall Street Journal that “moves to shore up election integrity have been resisted by progressives” who are challenging the legality of voter ID laws “without evidence that such efforts suppress minority turnout” -- despite the fact that a recent report found a decrease in voter of color turnout in two states was attributable to strict voter ID. For good measure, von Spakovsky, a discredited proponent of restrictive election rules, also conflated other forms of voter fraud with in-person impersonation, the only type of fraud voter ID prevents.

The dissembling continued with another NRO contributor, Mona Charen, offering more of the same in a post titled “The Voter-ID Myth Crashes.” Charen seized on a contested study of the rate of noncitizen voting to claim that "[b]eing asked to show a photo ID can diminish several kinds of fraud, including impersonation, duplicate registrations in different jurisdictions, and voting by ineligible people including felons and noncitizens," but buried the fact that "[v]oter-ID laws will not prevent noncitizens from voting." 

Charen is trying the same trick that Lowry and von Spakovsky did: pretending that the types of ID required by strict voter ID laws are the same as the types called for under other identification requirements, while also making the inaccurate suggestion that requiring people to show voter ID stops double registration and noncitizen voting.

In fact, strict voter ID requirements -- overly restrictive photo ID requirements -- do not prevent instances of “double voting” that stem from duplicate registrations, because people often re-register with the same ID they used originally. Voter ID is even less relevant to illegal noncitizen voting, as it is commonplace for noncitizens to legally have photo ID, as was the case in Florida and Ohio, where even the Republican secretary of state admitted that the 17 votes from noncitizens out of 5.63 million cast in 2012 would not have been stopped by voter ID.

Right-wing media frequently bring these types of fraud into a discussion of voter ID, even though the only type of fraud it can prevent is in-person voter impersonation -- a type of fraud even more rare than noncitizen voting. As Loyola Law professor Justin Levitt wrote of his study that found only 31 instances of possible in-person voter impersonation out of 1 billion ballots cast since 2000:

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.

Charen also ignored the fact that the results of the study she cited to justify voter ID has been questioned by election law experts, because its methodology was unreliable.

As Michael Tesler, writer for The Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog, explained, the data set used by the study's authors came from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES). That data was compiled from opt-in Internet surveys and was meant “to be nationally representative of the adult citizen population.” As a result, “the assumption that noncitizens, who volunteered to take online surveys administered in English about American politics, would somehow be representative of the entire noncitizen population seems tenuous at best.” Tesler also wrote, “any response error in self-reported citizenship status could have substantially altered the authors' conclusions because they were only able to validate the votes of five respondents who claimed to be noncitizen voters in the 2008 CCES.”

University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientists John Ahlquist and Scott Gehlbach also criticized the study, which has quickly become a favorite among conservatives, pointing out that "[g]iven the ever-present possibility of respondent or coder error, it takes a bit of hubris to draw strong conclusions" about a data set that is “ill-suited to examine the behavior of noncitizens” and that nevertheless found only 13 out of 55,400 respondents who claimed they were either registered to vote or actually cast a ballot.

National Review Online is usually -- relatively -- more careful in describing voter fraud that it uses to justify voter suppression like voter ID requirements. Apparently with one week to go before the midterms, NRO has spun so many voter ID myths that it can't keep them all straight.

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