WASHINGTON (AP) — Several states adopted new laws last year requiring that people show a photo ID when they go to vote even though the kind of election fraud that the laws are intended to stamp out is rare. Even supporters of the new laws are hard pressed to come up with large numbers of cases in which someone tried to vote under a false identify.
“I've compared this to the snake oil salesman: You got a cold? I got snake oil. Your foot aches? I got snake oil,” said election law expert Justin Levitt, who wrote The Truth About Voter Fraud for The Brennan Center for Justice. “It doesn't seem to matter what the problem is; [voter] ID is being sold as the solution to a whole bunch of things it can't possibly solve.”
Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin have passed laws this year that allow voters without the required photo ID to cast provisional ballots but the voters must return to a specific location with that ID within a certain time limit for their ballots to count. Indiana and Georgia already had such laws.
Other states have photo ID laws, too, but provide different way to verify a voter's identity without a photo ID. Texas and South Carolina are awaiting approval for their laws from the Justice Department because they are among states with a history of voting rights suppression and discrimination.
Indiana's law, passed in 2005, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008. Levitt combed through 250 cases of alleged election law fraud cited in legal briefs filed in that challenge. He found only nine instances involving a person allegedly voting in someone else's name, possibly fraudulently or possibly because of an error when the person signed in at the voting booth.
The remainder involved vote buying, ballot box stuffing, problems with absentee ballots or ex-convicts voting even though laws bar them from doing so. Over the same seven-year period covered by the cases Levitt reviewed, 400 million votes were cast in general elections.
Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, said one reason there is scant evidence of voter fraud is no one checks ID at the polls. He cited a mid-1980s grand jury report that described how, over a 14-year period, “crews” were recruited in Brooklyn, N.Y., to vote multiple times in multiple elections at various polling places, using the names of real voters, dead voters, voters who had moved away and fictitious voters.
“Nobody's saying its large scale” but such fraud could make a difference in close races, said von Spakovsky, who led the Justice Department's civil rights division under then President George W. Bush.
“It is something that happens in an instant and then it's gone,” Republican Rep. Todd Rokita, who spent eight years as Indiana's secretary of state, testified during a recent Senate hearing. “Witnesses dissipate. These are volunteer poll workers. It's not a domestic violence case. It's not something that leaves visible scars or bruises. It's the kind of case that is very hard to prosecute. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist.”
The laws and other voting restrictions have riled civil rights leaders and voter protection groups. Some groups say the new state laws are the equivalent of poll taxes and literacy tests that effectively kept minorities out of voting booths.
They argue that blacks, Hispanics, senior citizens, people with disabilities and the poor are more likely to lack the required photo ID. But they also contend others could be disenfranchised: voters who fail to bring ID with them; students whose school IDs are deemed unacceptable; people whose drivers' licenses have expired; and women whose driver's licenses do not reflect their married names or new addresses.
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Brennan Center for Justice: brennancenter.org
Heritage Foundation: heritage.org
League of Women Voters: lwv.org
The Advancement Project: advancementproject.org
National Conference of State Legislatures state voter
ID laws summary: http://bit.ly/IAKrY