Voter ID Won’t Prevent Fraud, but Will Prevent Votes

Across the country, legislators (mostly Republicans) are pushing for so-called “voter ID” laws that would require every voter to present a photo ID before casting his or her vote. This requirement is ostensibly meant to reduce voting fraud. In fact, it would do no such thing.

Nearly all reports of voter fraud turn out to be clerical errors. For example, lawyers for both candidates in the 2008 presidential election looked for examples of voter fraud, but were not able to find any. The only fraud that a photo ID requirement might prevent would be voter impersonation—a non-eligible voter impersonating an eligible voter at the polls. This has apparently never happened. Why would it? It is hard to do, and the payoff is practically non-existent. In 2009, Adam Skaggs of the Brennan Center testified to the Texas legislature that there are “virtually no confirmed examples of impersonation fraud.”

That’s enough of a reason not to increase the cost of holding elections, but the effect of an ID requirement is important to consider.

According to the Minnesota League of Women Voters, a substantial proportion of the electorate does not have a government-issued photo ID:

  • 18% of elderly citizens
  • 15% of voters earning less than $35,000 a year
  • 18% of citizens aged 18-24 do not have a government-issued ID with their current name and address
  • 10% of voters with disabilities
  • 25% of African-American citizens of voting age

In other words, a lot of poor people, college students, minorities, and people who rely on public benefits. Some of these people would have a hard time getting a photo ID because they don’t have access to their birth certificate or other identifying information. They also tend to support Democrats. Maybe voter ID requirements really aren’t about voter fraud after all (especially since the specter of voter fraud is itself a fraud), but about disenfranchising broad swathes of likely Democratic voters? Seems suspiciously likely.

Voter ID laws are a solution in search of a problem. Oppose them at the polls, and tell your representatives you oppose efforts to make it harder to vote.