Voter ID Laws and Voter Fraud: I was Wrong – Are You?

Voter ID Laws and Voter Fraud: I was Wrong – Are You?

I know this comes as a shock to those of you who know me.  So, brace yourself, but this is the second blog post where I’m admitting I was wrong.

Like you, I’m sure, I like to view myself as very logical and reasonable.  I like to imagine that truth is what matters most to me. I am attempting to take solace in the thought that part of being a sensible human who purports to being logical and reasonable that there is the occasional inevitability of having to reassess one’s opinions.

Listening to the news, and talking heads one would assume that vote fraud is not only a huge issue on people’s minds in this election season, and that voter fraud is a huge democracy threatening problem.  I recently found myself having to re-evaluate my position on this assumed pervasive problem of illegal and fraudulent voting across America and the necessity for such measures as voter ID laws.

But here’s the  problem:

I Was Wrong – for those that know me, you realize that this isn’t something I normally expect, BUT I had to reevaluate what I thought because of this most inconvenient thing – facts.

Possibly not unlike you, I was under the impression that voter fraud is a rampant problem. This thought is the driving force for many Americans to support the many Voter ID laws across the country. This very problem is the justification politicians are giving us on TV and in speeches for the need for Voter ID laws.

According to Gallup in surveys over August of 2016 they find the following opinions across the country regarding this issue. Of course let’s not forget that surveys of opinion are not fact, but rather a reflection of what people think.  So, the two questions here I was concerned with are:

Are votes being cast by
people not eligible to vote?
Are otherwise eligible voters
not being allowed to cast a vote?
% %
U.S. adults 36 32
Republicans 52 22
Independents 33 31
Democrats 26 40

On the surface these two questions seem to represent  opposite ends of potential voting problems. And of course again – just because someone believes something – it doesn’t make it true. But for the politician creating, enforcing, and leveraging such beliefs can be used to push policy decisions through.

id-laws-affect-whoI’m sure most of my readers also have heard the trope – vote early and vote often. We say it jokingly on our way to the polls – assuming  we are being clever because we all “know” that this is really a problem anyway. But, what if like so many old wives tales it has turned out that this “common wisdom” is not actually true. 

Under President George Bush the Justice Department searched for voter fraud – and according to a SSN report – just 26 people were convicted or pled guilty over the first three years of the program – this is out of 197,056,035 votes cast. According to a report on the Government Accountability Office there were “no apparent cases of in-person voter impersonation charged by the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division or by U.S. Attorney’s offices anywhere in the United States, from 2004 through July 3, 2014.”

In fact – the further I looked into actual reported numbers and the nature of complaints – the harder and harder it gets to find any proof, much less substantive support for the idea that voter fraud is happening by anything other than error, misunderstanding and confusion.

I do love Mother Jone’s list of things statistically more common than voter fraud which includes:

So, I’m left then pondering two questions – and think that if I can get to the root of these, maybe I can understand and approach an equitable position on these issues.

1. Why are there so many voter ID laws on the books?

As of August 2016 there are 31 states with voter ID laws. 16 states require photo ID, while 15 others will accept various other forms of ID. This year (2016) fourteen of these state’s voters are going to the voting booth facing ID laws not on the books during the last presidential election.

I can almost hear you thinking – what is wrong with that? It is easy to find various studies that support both sides of this argument.  It is a matter of moments to find something such as this story claiming some of the same sources I cite pointing out that ID laws don’t affect turnout and that fraud is rampant and ID laws are essential.

What strikes me as I view these contradictory stories is that the more liberally perceived the source or reporters the less it is attributed to be a problem, while the more conservative the source the more stridently it seems to be supported.

So, reporters and positions aside – what do conservative politicians hope to gain?

Rep. Glen Grotham stated that Voter ID would help the republicans to win in Wisconsin. Pennsylvania’s GOP Senator Turzai in 2012 claimed that  Voter ID will allow Romeny to win in PA. Some have left the GOP due to seeing the giddy reaction among politicians when voter ID laws have passed. Even Politifact trounces Greg Abbott of Texas’ claims of rampant fraud.

Despite claims and public hand wringing – it seems to me that voter ID has nothing to do with fraud – except when it is needed for public appeal or frighten voters into not thinking. It is a partisan tool specifically to allow conservatives to win.

“In the states where they do have voter ID laws you’ve seen … elections begin to change towards more conservative candidates.” — U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint in support of voter ID  May 2016

And of course there is Tod Yelton who made comments on The Daily Show in interview that North Carolina’s voting law “hurts a bunch of lazy blacks who wants the government to give them everything,” which unsurprisingly  led to his resignation.

2. Why are the Courts repeatedly striking them down?

It should always be remembered – that just because a majority votes for something it doesn’t make it true, nor does it make it right. The danger of sometimes ‘letting the states decide’ is that in regard to civil rights they all too often have got it wrong historically.  So, I think it will be easy, if you bear in mind the context of the previous few paragraphs, to imagine why the Courts have been striking down Voter ID laws as unconstitutional.

The basis for this position by the courts is insightful and leading what is actually the problem with these laws, and what the purpose is by the politicians pushing for them.

The court of Appeals regarding striking down North Carolina’s  voter ID law down in July of 2016

“We cannot ignore the record evidence that, because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history…” Judge Diana Motz – 4th Circuit Court of Appeals

Full decision here

Meanwhile the same week the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found that Texas’ voter ID law violates the Voter Rights Act.

“This decision affirms our position that Texas’s highly restrictive voter ID law abridges the right to vote on account of race or color and orders appropriate relief before yet another election passes.” – US Attorney General Loretta Lynch

Further – in 2016 the University of San Diego published a study, which I find to be very accessible and clearly written, entitled “Voter Identification Laws and the Suppression of Minority Votes.” The opening abstract summary of the paper ends with, “The analysis shows that strict photo identification laws have a differentially negative impact on the turnout of Hispanics, Blacks, and mixed-race Americans in primaries and general elections. Voter ID laws skew democracy in favor of whites and those on the political right.” [I do hope you take the time to read it carefully as it is the newest RESEARCH on the subject at the time of this writing.]

Summary:

So, I was wrong, and I admit it.  I had assumed – as I’d been told by politicians, by radio personalities, and many others –  that Voter ID laws were about rampant voter fraud.  But, I had to face in the end – that this un-evaluated position I had held for years wasn’t based in fact. And those who leverage it are not doing so in good faith.

I had to reassess my opinions and be honest with myself that the specter of losing an election to fraud just isn’t supported in the data. But looking at the data I have to come to the position that Voter ID laws do – by design – actively target sections of our population based on racial lines, and this is supported by both scholarly research and various Court of Appeal’s evaluation of the data and the laws.

I am reminded of Poll Taxes and other hindrances to minority voting and rights in America’s checkered past.

And I as an American, as a human, as a sentient and thinking being should never knowingly choose to support such.

COMMENTS

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    Great article David!

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