Americans are more likely to be struck by a bolt of lightening than commit voter identity fraud, but that hasn’t stopped the GOP from making it seem as though people are sneaking into this country to commit voter fraud. Then again, who needs to lie about immigrants and voter fraud? Pennsylvania State Representative Mike Turzai flat-out admitted that voter ID laws are the key to Governor Romney winning the primary in PA.
That may sound shocking, but it’s not really a surprise. According to Mother Jones political blogger Kevin Drum, the GOP has one of two strategies when it comes to voter turnout and sentiment this election: to double-down on their demographic groups and try to restrict outsiders from voting, or to start leaning more left on social issues in order to regain some of the youth vote.
Obviously they’ve chosen the former.
It may seem far-fetched that the GOP would construct an entire model of restricted voting based on something that isn’t a problem, but that is exactly what happened. Here are the cold hard facts about voter identification laws.
1. Voter ID Is Really Just Voter Suppression
Voter ID laws are, in reality voter suppression laws. Not everyone in the US has the means to get a government-issued photo ID and these laws put financial burden on people in order for them to vote. It’s impossible to even come up with a clever analogy that equates voting to some other mundane aspect of life, because voting is, by itself, an entirely separate aspect of existing in a democratic society. This isn’t analogous to requiring an ID to drive a car and buy alcohol; voting is a basic constitutional right afforded to all citizens of the United States. It’s such an important part of democratic life that history is littered with examples of trying to suppress it.
So what is voter suppression? It’s one of two ways to win an election, successful political campaigning being the first. Let’s take a look at the differences between the two.
A political campaign is exactly what it sounds like: going on the campaign trail and influencing voters with stump speeches, interviews, and ads. Political campaigning is what happens every time you get an email from the Obama campaign, or read one of Romney’s tweets.
This is what voter suppression looks like:
Proponents of THE CAGE campaign passed a law to have to quote Nicolas Cage in order to vote. Those who want to vote must now be able to quote a line from any Nicolas Cage movie before they cast their ballot. For anyone who already likes Nicolas Cage movies this is fine – after all, who doesn’t know a few lines from Ghostrider or National Treasure? But for people who don’t watch movies, don’t know who Nicolas Cage is, and don’t like Nicolas Cage, they will now have to go out of their way to rent or purchase a Nicolas Cage movie in order to pick out a good line.
And there are plenty of people who won’t spend a dime on a Nicolas Cage movie just to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
Of course, voter suppression has taken a much more quiet, incognito form than mandating Nicolas Cage quotes. There were religious tests. There was economic disenfranchisement where almost half of the (white) population in America weren’t “qualified” to vote because they didn’t own land outright. There have been literacy tests, poll taxes, hiding the locations of the polls, economic pressures, and threats of physical violence toward Black men who show up at the polls. And during all of this, women still weren’t allowed to vote, even though the suppression of women’s suffrage clearly violated the 14th amendment.
The government now recognizes that mandating a literacy test before a vote disenfranchises poor people who, for whatever reason, were unable to receive an education and could not pass a standardized test (and standardized tests inherently disenfranchise minority demographics – that’s another story). We now recognize that the color of someone’s skin has nothing to do with their rights as a citizen. Eventually we recognized that women are people, too, and should be afforded the same rights as men.
By now you should start to see a pattern. Every time someone attempts to ensure that only real American citizens are voting, we end up suppressing the votes of other Americans. Voter identification requirements are no different. If there isn’t a serious problem of in-person individual voter fraud – which would realistically be impossible – why is the GOP trying to “fix” it?
2. Voter ID Mandates Are Racist
This may sound hyperbolic, but sadly it is not. If people who do not have government-issued IDs will not be able to vote, it makes sense to take a look at who exactly will be affected by this change:
By far the largest group affected is African Americans. 1 in 4 African Americans do not have identification that would satisfy the requirements of a voter ID mandate. The fact that these laws affect such a huge portion of one voter bloc is no accident, but rather a carefully constructed way to prevent a group that has historically voted for Democrats from voting at all.
Texas is a perfect example of how voter ID laws have already hurt minorities is. Last year, it was estimated that between 175,000 and 304,000 registered Hispanic voters in Texas did not have a driver’s license or state-issued ID. To require something that would immediately disqualify between 0.68% and 1.18% of a state’s population from voting is clearly an attack on minority interests in public election.
To be clear: voter ID laws are not racist in and of themselves. But combined with the reality of minority access to the requirements for voting, the outcome is racist. Protecting the sanctity of our elections cannot come at the cost of placing an extra burden on low-income minorities and no one else.
Here’s what the ACLU produced on the topic of voter suppression:
Still not convinced? A University of Delaware study found a “high degree of racial resentment” (read: racist attitudes) among respondents who were proponents of voter ID laws; the degree to which 85% of the respondents held these racial resentments is directly proportional to the amount of support they showed for voter ID laws. And if you’re still not ready to call these laws racist, Florida Republican Party chairman Jim Greer recently admitted that he and his colleagues had meetings about “keeping blacks from voting”.
Now that we’re all in the mood to talk about how terrible our country treats minorities, let’s take a step back and consider this situation from a different perspective.
3. Voter ID Mandates are Oppressive
Just before the 1872 Presidential Election a woman tried to cast her vote and was subsequently arrested for participating in a federal election. This woman’s name was Susan B. Anthony. After being arrested by a U.S. Marshall and tried seven months later she was convicted of committing a crime, even though she was legally protected by the 14th amendment.
But Anthony was spearheading the effort for the suffrage of women, not the cessation of voter identification legislation. So it’s a completely different argument, right? Wrong.
Anthony and other suffragettes were outraged that the 14th and 15th Amendments were still being interpreted as only a liberation of Black men to vote and be afforded full, legal personhood. While it was certainly a long overdue step in the right direction, women were still second-class citizens and Anthony pointed straight at the amendment’s verbiage to justify her vote:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The text was clear: there shall be no law created that would infringe on the ”privileges or immunities” as citizens, which included the right to vote and elect representation. Anything that puts undue burden on a voter in order to ensure that that voter is a proper American who is properly voting in a proper election is, by definition, oppressive. This standard was reaffirmed by the 24th Amendment, which was the one that restricted any state or federal poll tax.
4. Voting, Unlike Alcohol and Tobacco Consumption, Is a Right
One of the most common counterarguments to opponents of voter ID laws is that identification is required for so many other things – alcohol, driving, and marriage to name a few – and that because of this, voting should not be considered some special privilege outside of the identification requirements of other activities.
And that’s true: anything that citizens have the privilege of enjoying that requires adult judgement and supervision (like purchasing a firearm, tobacco, alcohol, opening a brokerage account, or getting a driver’s license) can and should require identification to ensure that no illegal activity is taking place. But voting, is a right, not a privilege. And a stalwart protection of the individual rights of all citizens in the US is precisely the point of the Constitution.
5. Voter ID Laws Reduce Voting Democrats, But Not Voter Fraud
Ballot fraud is so ridiculously unlikely that it will have zero impact on an election. Stories about dead people voting and dogs and cats determining a primary is about as true as every hook-handed make-out deterrent. The only time ballot fraud has the potential to affect an election is when the fraud happens after the individual has already voted – such as Florida, in the 2000 election.
In fact, between 2000 and 2005, there were only 26 federal convictions of voter fraud. That number is so small that it can hardly even be calculated as a percentage of the voting population. But the number of voters affected by restrictions in the form of identification laws? Over 3.8 million. With 74 new bills about voter registration in various legislatures across the US, over 5 million more voters could be affected in the fall.
More Information About Voter ID Laws
- Since 2001, nearly 1,000 bills that would tighten voting laws have been introduced in 46 states.
- 24 voting restrictions have passed in 17 states since 2011. This fall, new laws could affect more than 5 million voters in states representing 179 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
- In the past two years, 5 battleground states (Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) have tightened their voting laws.
- As of April, 74 restrictive voting laws were on the table in 24 states.
- Since 2011, 34 states have introduced laws requiring voters to show photo ID, and 9 states have passed photo ID laws, affecting 3.8 million voters.
- 2.2 million registered voters did not vote in 2008 because they didn’t have proper ID.
- Last year, 12 states introduced laws requiring birth certificates or other proof of citizenship to vote; 3 passed.
- Only 48 percent of women have a birth certificate with their current legal name on it.
- Texas’ new ID law permits voters to use concealed-handgun licenses as proof of identity, but not state university IDs.
- 80 percent of the 75 million eligible voters who did not take part in the 2008 election were not registered to vote.
- In 2008, more than 1/3 of voters cast ballots before Election Day. In 2011, 5 states passed bills to restrict early voting.
- States with Election Day registration have 7 to 12 percent greater turnout than states without. Last year, 5 states introduced bills that eliminate Election Day registration.
- 12 percent of minority voters report registering through voter drives, twice the rate of white voters. In 2011, Florida and Texas passed laws making registration drives much harder to organize.
- Florida state Sen. Mike Bennett, a supporter of the tougher voter registration law, said, “I don’t have a problem making it harder. I want people in Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who walks 200 miles across the desert. This should not be easy.”
- While defending its precedent-setting photo ID law before the Supreme Court, Indiana was unable to cite a single instance of voter impersonation in its entire history.
- In 2008, John McCain said fraudulent registrations collected by ACORN were “one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” The Congressional Research Service found no proof that anyone improperly registered by ACORN tried to vote.
- Federal convictions for election fraud, 2002-05
- Voting while ineligible: 18
- Voting multiple times: 5
- Registration fraud: 3