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Voter ID Is Not About Fraud; It Is About Voter Suppression

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On January 16, Gene Berardelli wrote an article for IVN titled, “Hard evidence supports the need for Voter ID laws.” While this is a common argument among proponents of voter ID, the existence of hard evidence necessitating the need for voter ID is a questionable proposition at best.

In big letters, Mr. Berardelli’s article screams, “Voter Fraud is Real.” Voter fraud is real –– much like getting struck by lightning is, or winning the Powerball Lottery, or getting killed by a falling icicle, or your kid (god forbid) becoming a congressman. Proponents of voter ID know this and willingly admit it.

The article links to a story reported by North Carolina’s Channel 3 News which says that of the 7 million ballots cast in the 2012 elections in the state, there were only 121 (or 0.00174%) alleged cases of voter fraud that were referred to district attorneys. In 2010, 3.8 million ballots were cast and a barely noticeable 28 cases were turned over to district attorneys. These numbers are replicated in every state. 

Still, the widely reported (and reconfirmed) statistical non-existence of voter fraud cases doesn’t stop voter ID law proponents. Ultimately, they never seriously argue that voter fraud is a common practice that is widespread and a threat to country, flag, and mom’s apple pie. It’s cognitive dissonance dressed up as conspiracy theory. 

Proponents abruptly change their argument and claim that the possibility of widespread voter fraud is real. The publicity-stunt muckraker James O’Keefe, mentioned in Berardelli’s article, became infamous for walking in to a Washington, D.C. polling station and posing as Attorney General Eric Holder. He provided Holder’s name and home address and was subsequently offered a ballot to vote. Of course, he did not actually take the ballot and fill it out because – drum roll – it’s illegal and can lead to severe penalties.

Yes, the possibility of voter fraud is real like just about anything else. It’s possible that I could go to a 7-11, stuff a Snickers into my pocket and try to walk out without paying — except I won’t because (besides being immoral), if I’m caught, the penalty for stealing the candy far outweighs whatever gratification it may offer me.

Actual cases of voter fraud are individual, isolated cases usually involving confused voters and election officials. The vast majority of voter fraud cases are a result of human error: accidentally voting twice, filling out a ballot in the wrong precinct, elections officials accidentally allowing a convict to vote, and — the most common — incorrectly filling out an absentee ballot, which voter ID laws would do nothing to prevent.

When voter ID proponents use the term, they try to bring up images of massive conspiracies by partisan voters (i.e. Democrats) to stuff ballot boxes and steal elections. However, evocations of Boss Tweed and the notorious Tammany Hall political machine are laughably irrelevant. The Tammany Hall era was a dark time in American history, which has long since disappeared and has never re-emerged.

Tweed and other urban political bosses were able to do the things they did because America had not yet adopted the secret ballot, standardized government-issued ballots, and voting booths. Voters were provided already-filled ballots by party henchmen. The ballot box was left out in the open so these henchmen could make sure that voters were voting “the right way.”

Obviously, this kind of thing no longer happens, and, fortunately, it would be impossible for it to happen today. Since 2000, there have only been 10 cases of in-person voter fraud.

In short, allegations of widespread voter fraud belong in the same dustbin as teaching creationism in public schools and denial of global warming. Actually, if proponents of voter ID are so concerned about the integrity of our voting system, they would provide a much better service directing their energies to investigating electronic voting machines, which may have already altered at least one election.

So, what is the real reason voter ID laws are desired? It’s not a coincidence that passing Voter ID laws is a major part of the conservative Republican Party platform. Neither is it a coincidence that the citizens who are most likely to not possess a photo ID or proof of citizenship are poor, black, and female urbanites. A full 25 percent of African-Americans do not possess adequate ID, and, contrary to an all too popular belief, it is not for lack of trying. Acquiring an ID requires time and money, precisely the two things poor urban minorities do not have.

So it is utterly unsurprising when, for example, Wisconsin passes a voter ID law and Republican Governor Scott Walker’s administration promptly closes around ten DMVs located near urban centers with large populations of poor minorities. Or, when South Carolina State Representative Alan Clemmons handed out peanuts with notes attached saying, “Stop Obama’s nutty agenda and support voter ID.” Or in 2012, when Pennsylvania’s House Majority Leader said that the state’s passage of its voter ID law will “allow Governor Romney to win the state: done.”

Many proponents of voter ID are not bigots. They honestly believes voter fraud is a serious problem (or that it can be a serious problem). Unfortunately, it seems this belief stems from flimsy talking points which act as propaganda for a much less honorable pursuit.

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The Independent Voter Network is dedicated to providing political analysis, unfiltered news, and rational commentary in an effort to elevate the level of our public discourse.

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