Rigid Voter ID Laws Resting on Wobbly Evidence of Voter Fraud, While Advancing Racial Discrimination, Reports Find

July 24, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

All too often proponents of ridiculously rigid voter ID laws cite voter fraud as justification. It is, those supporters argue, the integrity of the nation’s elections that need to be protected. But the argument is not only tired, it’s wobbly. It also masks the pernicious impact these laws have on low-income voters, minority voters, and the elderly.

As noted in this post last week, Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old Philadelphian is fighting back against Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law. Represented by the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Advancement Project, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and the D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter LLP Applewhite is challenging the law as a violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The lawsuit argues the voter ID act subverts the state’s constitution “by depriving citizens of their most fundamental constitutional right – the right to vote.”

Reporting for TPM, Ryan J. Reilly notes that as the lawsuit proceeds to trial, state officials have “formally acknowledged that there’s been no reported in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania.”

The state officials, Reilly continues, “signed a stipulation agreement with lawyers for the plaintiffs which acknowledges that there ‘have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states.” Moreover, Reilly notes that the state acknowledges in the stipulation agreement that it “will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.”

For proponents of the harsh voter ID laws, the state's stipulation is likely disappointing. It should not be surprising, however, to anyone paying attention to the machinations behind the creation of the onerous laws.  

In a recent ACS Issue Brief, Loyola Law School Profess Justin Levitt examines the new restrictions on civic participation, highlighting the numerous studies and examinations that undermine claims of voter fraud.

“There have been credible allegations of impersonation at the polls,” Levitt says. “But they are notable for their rarity. In the most prominent forum to date for collecting such allegations [a 2008 case before the Supreme Court], proponents of these rules cited nine votes since 2000 that were caused by fraud that in-person identification rules could possibly stop … or by mistake. During that same period, 400 million votes were cast, in general elections alone. Even assuming that each of the nine voters were fraudulent, that amounts to a relevant fraud rate of 0.000002 percent.”

Applewhite, of the Pa. lawsuit, told The New York Times that she had no difficulty voting in the 2008 presidential election, but the state’s stringent voter ID law may make it impossible for her to participate this time around.

She bluntly said that the state’s new law is all about suppressing the vote of African Americans, to help influence the outcome of the presidential election.

Earlier this year Pa. House Majority Leader Mike Turzai told a gathering of Republicans that the new law, “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”

The groups representing Applewhite are trying to ensure that disenfranchisement does not occur, thereby preventing a real fraud.

Other states are also fighting to keep in place harsh voter ID laws. The Brennan Center for Justice studying those state laws, including the one in Pennsylvania, recently concluded that if those laws survive, scores of people could potentially be kept away from the polls.

The laws, the report shows overwhelmingly would impact the poor, the elderly and minority voters.

“More than 1 million eligible voters in these 10 photo ID states fall below the federal poverty line and reside more than 10 miles from the nearest ID-issuing office,” the Brennan Center stated. “These voters can be particularly affected by the significant costs of the documentation required to obtain a photo ID. Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25. By comparison, the notorious poll tax – outlawed during the civil rights era – cost $10.64.”

When U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder slammed some of the rigid voter ID laws, comparing them to the poll tax, some right-wing pundits, notably those on Fox News went ballistic.

In a blog post for Media Matters, Sergio Munoz examines the reaction of right-wing media to the Brennan Center report and a recent one from the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication, which also highlights the laws’ “racial discrimination.”

The right-wing media’s “denial of the racial effect usually has two components in an attempt to whitewash voter suppression, claiming that whatever effect these laws have on communities of color is wholly incidental,” Munoz writes. “That is there may be a discriminatory impact, but there is no discriminatory intent.”

But the claim that these new voter ID laws are not intended to disproportionately suppress certain segments of voters is as lame as the claim that the laws are needed to prevent voter fraud.

Regardless, it is reprehensible that Applewhite and many other people in the nation’s communities of color must continue to fight efforts to shut them out an integral part of democracy.