In the current legislative session alone, since the November 2010 elections, 34 states have initiated Voter Identification Legislation according to the Brennan Center for Justice. A recent M.I.T. study reported by the People for the American Way revealed that in 2008 approximately 2.2 million people could not cast ballots because they lacked the proper ID; and while 70% of African Americans and 65% of Hispanics were asked for ID, 51% of Caucasians were asked to present identification.
Since 2001, nearly 1,000 Voter ID bills have been introduced.
Voting is obviously the quintessential right of citizenship in a democratic republic. Whenever a legitimate citizen is denied the right to exercise their franchise, a grave and ominous injustice is visited upon the legitimacy of the government in which this happens to occur.
The United States has a troubled history of restricted voting rights among its citizenry; which has, at various junctures, been addressed by Constitutional amendment and remedial legislative initiative. This history is being repeated in the name of guarding against possible voter fraud.
To the extent that it occurs, voter fraud—by its definition—is likewise an affront to democratic republicanism and likewise represents an ominous threat and injustice to a government’s legitimacy. A reasonable question would then be how frequently does fraudulent voting occur? The answer may be that this cannot be determined as there have, theoretically, been fraudulent voters who have not been “caught.”
What then is the evidence that voter fraud is, or has been, a problem? In other words, since more voting restrictions and barriers are proliferating from a legislative perspective—ostensibly to protect against this—what is the reason for the sudden concern?
The (George W. Bush) Justice Department probed allegations of voter fraud between the years 2002-2007, and the resulting finding was that out 300 million votes cast in that period, prosecutors gained convictions in a grand total of 86 cases nationwide for voter fraud.
It just so happens that young voters, minorities, and the poor are less likely to have state issued identifications or driver’s licenses than are others. It also happens that young voters, minority owners, and the poor were coincidentally key the Obama victory margin in 2008 and are likely to be even more important in what figures to be a much closer election in 2012. It has, in fact, been estimated that as many as 21 million Americans lack a state-issued ID; and that more than 5.5 million African Americans do not have a current photo ID.
According to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), in the state Wisconsin the Legislative Fiscal Bureau—a Wisconsin state agency—recently did an analysis after Wisconsin passed their new Voter Identification law, and they found that 1 out of 5 people in Wisconsin don’t have the necessary ID to vote. They further found that over a third of the young people in the state don’t have the appropriate ID to vote, and that over 200,000 college students in the state university system—who have University of Wisconsin ID’s—cannot use them in Wisconsin. This law—and these laws generally—are clearly targeted at demographics that tend to vote largely for Democrats.
In another example, Obama carried North Carolina in '08 by 13,692 votes. The proposed Voter ID legislation in that state alone, according to the New York Times/Washington Post report, could disenfranchise 556,000 voters in the next presidential election. Remember, we are addressing a statistically non-existent problem, based on a total of 86 voter fraud convictions out of 300,000,000 votes nationwide over about a six year period.
Also, more recently the state of South Carolina has passed a voter photo identification law in which voters are required to show a state-issued driver’s license or ID card, a military ID, or a passport when they vote (and without which they are currently permitted to cast provisional or absentee ballots). According to an analysis by The Associated Press, this law disproportionately affects minority voters in overwhelmingly African American precincts in one of the largest counties in the state. The South Carolina Election Commission provided an analysis of precinct-level data which found nearly half of those who cast ballots at a predominantly black college precinct lacked state-issued photo ID’s and could face problems voting in next year’s presidential election. In both Richland County, the second largest county in the state and the majority black Orangeburg County the percentage of “minority” voters without IDs is also higher that it is statewide.
South Carolina is of course a reliably Republican state for presidential electoral political purposes; otherwise known as a “red” state. However there were a number of states carried by President Bush in 2004 that voted to elect President Obama in 2008; among them Ohio, Virginia, and North Carolina. Not surprisingly, these particular states each experienced significant increases in African American turnout in 2008 compared to 2004. Ohio and North Carolina, for example, both experienced an approximate 15% increase; while Virginia had about a 20% increase in 2008.
It is however coincidental—or not—that in Ohio, the Republican House of Representatives passed a strict voter ID law that was eventually blocked by the Ohio state senate, and that in North Carolina the Republican state legislature passed a voter ID law that was vetoed by Democratic Governor Bev Perdue, and that Virginia also tried to pass a voter identification law in 2011.
In a representative democratic republic, to be searching for ways to suppress the vote is reprehensibly cynical—and absolutely inexcusable in America—when, based on statistical fact, it is unnecessary to do so.