Vote ID Is Not About Voter Fraud

Justin LevittJonathan Bernstein just wrote yet another in what has become of political reporting genre that I hate, How to Target Nonexistent Fraud. It follows on Justin Levitt’s Wonk Blog article, A Comprehensive Investigation of Voter Impersonation Finds 31 Credible Incidents Out of One Billion Ballots Cast. Hooray! There is no in-person voter fraud! Or, to be more exact, this kind of voter fraud occurs at a rate of 0.000003%. The effect of miscounting—even in recounts—is undoubtedly larger. So voter ID laws don’t make any sense.

In fact, Bernstein looks at it from a cost-benefit perspective:

Generally, there probably is a trade-off in some cases between making it as easy as possible for legitimate voters to cast their ballots and making fraud difficult. But in the specific case of voter ID, given it’s dubious value, there isn’t much of a trade-off. Such measures do nothing about real election fraud, so if they keep legitimate voters away from the polls—let’s say if they keep more than 31 legitimate voters away over 15 years or so—then they are a bad idea.

Okay, sure. But this kind of analysis legitimizes racist conduct. The term “voter fraud” is the newest form of dog whistle politics. You may remember that in 2009, many conservatives were claiming that Obama only won the presidency because of voter fraud committed by ACORN. Many even made that claim in 2012, even though ACORN did not exist because of a concerted, dishonest, and highly successful attack on the group. This is the basis of the current conservative freak out over voter fraud.

Now I understand that the average voter ID enthusiast doesn’t consciously think that these laws are going to “get the darkies!” But in their mind, that is exactly the kind of voter who they see as committing fraud. This is what’s going on with Chris McDaniel and his outrage over the Mississippi Republican Senate primary. In the first draft of a press release, it referred repeatedly to “black Democrats” wrongly voting in the election. So even for the Republican base, this is a racial issue.

For the Republicans who are pushing this, it is explicitly, but strategically, racist. That is to say that they know how their arguments will play with the base, but they don’t necessarily have anything against blacks and other minorities, except so far as they tend to vote for the Democratic Party. But even if we take the racial element out of this, the point of voter ID laws is to disenfranchise Democratic leaning voters. And that is all that has to be said.

So every time someone writes a column trying to show that in-person voter fraud—the only kind of fraud that is addressed by voter ID laws—is not real, they are implying that voter ID laws are being passed because people are really worried about voter fraud. They aren’t. This is just a mercenary anti-democratic effort by Republicans to keep Democrats from voting. No amount of evidence like that produced by Justin Levitt will ever convince the Republicans that voter ID laws are not a good idea for suppressing Democratic Party voting.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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