The stated rationale behind the Republican campaign to require voter ID at the polls is utterly baseless, evidence from a new study confirms.
Republican legislatures are increasingly imposing strict ID requirements for voters, ostensibly to deter in-person voter fraud. But voter fraud in general is rare. And that particular form of voter fraud is "virtually non-existent," according to the extensive public-records search conducted by News21, a nonpartisan investigative news project funded by the Carnegie and Knight foundations. Researchers filed more than 2,000 public-records requests and reviewed nearly 5,000 court documents, official records and media reports to get their information.
They identified 2,068 alleged cases of voter fraud since the year 2000, a period during which there have been more than 600 million votes cast in presidential elections alone. That, the study noted, is an "infinitesimal amount." It also showed a total of 10 cases of in-person voter fraud during that period.
With Republicans in control of so many state houses, 25 laws and two executive actions to restrict voting have passed since the beginning of 2011, in 19 states. The most common new voting law, now effective in nine states, requires voters to show certain government-issued photo identification cards.
Supporters defended voter id laws when News21 presented its data. “Whether you have proof of it or not, what in the heavens is wrong with showing an ID at polls?” said Bill Denny, a Republican state representative in Mississippi who sponsored his state’s voter ID bill.
So why are Republicans pushing for ID cards so hard? One obvious answer: voter suppression.
Despite the popular conception that no one can function in modern society without a valid photo ID, there are an estimated 11 percent of U.S. citizens -- more than 21 million people -- who don't have a current, unexpired government-issued ID with a photograph.
A multitude of groups are more likely to lack a valid ID: people who don't leave their homes very often; the disabled; the elderly; people who have moved since they registered; people who forgot to renew their licenses; people who don't have cars and live far away from ID-issuing offices; people who tried to get one, but could not without the birth certificate required to get a government-issued photo ID, and you need a photo ID to get a birth certificate.
By all estimates, those disproportionately affected by voter ID laws include the elderly, minorities, the poor and young adults. Three out of four of those demographic groups tend to vote more Democratic than Republican.
Especially if an election is close, disenfranchising several hundred thousand predominantly Democratic voters could easily change history.
The new study is only the latest to conclude that in-person voter fraud doesn't exist as a problem.
State officials in Pennsylvania, now trying to defend their law in court, nevertheless have conceded that they have no evidence of prior in-person voter fraud in their state, or any reason to believe that such a thing would be more likely without a voter ID law.
By contrast, officials found that, at first glance, it appeared as many as 1.3 million of Pennsylvania's 8.2 million voters -- more than 1 in 7 -- didn't appear to have valid state IDs.
The News21 research began by reviewing more than 300 cases of alleged voter fraud collected by the Republican National Lawyers Association. But the researchers said they found that the list consisted "mainly of newspaper articles about a range of election issues, with little supporting evidence of actual in-person voter fraud."