Voter Suppression Is The Problem, Not Voter Fraud

At best, the efforts to stop so-called voter fraud are misguided and unnecessary. At worst, they are textbook “dog-whistles.”
05/24/2017 10:32 am ET Updated May 24, 2017
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
Mark Reinstein via Getty Images
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

In a move dripping with cynicism and partisan politics, the Trump administration recently announced an executive order to create a “Presidential Commission on Election Integrity.” At the AFL-CIO, the federation of America’s unions, we believe that ensuring and protecting the right of every citizen to vote is a bedrock principle of our democracy, and we welcome a proper and serious effort to restore the right of every American to make their voices heard. Unfortunately, the newly announced commission is focused on a problem that does not exist. Our democracy suffers not from voter fraud, but voter suppression and disenfranchisement.

The fact is that voter fraud in the United States is virtually non-existent. One report from the Brennan Center for Justice, The Truth About Voter Fraud, noted that it is more likely that an American “will be struck by lightning than... impersonate another voter at the polls.”

The courts have affirmed in multiple cases — most notably the Supreme Court in Crawford v. Marion County, Indiana — that there is little to no evidence of voter fraud that most laws that claim to address this issue are actually blanket means of voter suppression. Even Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who was tapped to help lead this commission, testified before Kansas lawmakers that his review of 84 million votes cast in 22 states only yielded 14 instances of fraud referred for prosecution. This amounted to a 0.00000017 percent fraud rate.

At best, the efforts to stop so-called voter fraud are misguided and unnecessary. At worst, they are textbook “dog-whistles,” with roots in some of our nation’s ugliest periods of discrimination designed to deny citizens the right to vote, as has occurred in states like North Carolina, Florida and Texas. In the name of “fraud protection,” legislation requiring photo ID, the curtailing of early vote hours, illegal voter purges, the restriction of absentee voting and other disenfranchising practices have all been used to limit eligible voters from exercising their constitutional right to vote.

America’s hardworking families and communities deserve better. As the movement of working people, we are standing up and demanding that this type of dangerous approach to governing end and that a pro-voter agenda be adopted immediately, starting by restoring the Voting Rights Act. We join with hundreds of other civic organizations across the political spectrum to call for real integrity in our democracy and urge our leaders to expand and protect the right to vote.

As a teenager, I risked my life to escape state-sanctioned violence in Ethiopia. I arrived in the United States as a refugee, ready to take my place in this beacon of democracy. Now, as Executive Vice President of the largest free labor federation in the world, I have committed my life to the expansion and protection of democratic rights and values in and outside of the workplace. That starts with aggressively securing voting rights, exposing the lies about voter fraud and ending voter suppression once and for all.

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