Getting it Wrong on Voter ID

COMMENTARY Election Integrity

Getting it Wrong on Voter ID

Aug 3, 2012 3 min read
Hans A. von Spakovsky

Election Law Reform Initiative Manager, Senior Legal Fellow

Hans von Spakovsky is an authority on a wide range of issues—including civil rights, civil justice, the First Amendment, immigration.

Among the many poorly researched articles that have written about voter-ID laws, one piece that appeared recently in Politico holds a special place.

Reporter Emily Schultheis opens with the claim that “at least 5 million voters, predominantly young and from minority groups sympathetic to President Barack Obama, could be affected by an unprecedented flurry of new legislation by Republican governors and GOP-led legislatures to change or restrict voting rights by Election Day 2012.”

Schultheis doesn’t say where she got the estimate of 5 million until well into the article — it’s from a Brennan Center report. And she fails to disclose the radical, left-wing nature of the Brennan Center or the fact that it is an advocacy organization that is litigating against voter ID.

As I have pointed out previously, that 5 million figure is completely speculative and not based on any substantive evidence. In fact, the experience of states such as Georgia and Indiana, whose voter-ID laws have been in place for years, as well as reputable surveys conducted by academic institutions such as American University, consistently show that the share of registered voters who don’t have a photo ID is less than 1 percent. This is a far cry from the high numbers the Brennan Center has been claiming since 2006.

Every state that has implemented a voter-ID law has also made free IDs available to voters who don’t have them. One might wonder how in the world 5 million people are going to be prevented from voting — and why so few people are receiving free IDs.

For instance, Kansas has a new voter-ID law. Through May of this year, only 32 out of 1.7 million registered voters have applied for a free photo ID because they didn’t already have one. In most of the six years that Georgia has had a voter-ID law in place, fewer than 0.05 percent of the state’s 6 million registered voters have received free IDs.

Schultheis also says, as if it is a proven fact, that these “laws tend to disproportionately affect young voters and minorities.” Really? Based on what evidence? Another Brennan Center study? The actual turnout of Democratic and minority voters went up, not down, in Georgia and Indiana after their voter-ID laws went into effect, and those increases were larger than in many states without voter-ID laws.

Furthermore, in lawsuits filed by liberal groups against both states, none of the plaintiffs, including organizations such as the NAACP and the ACLU, could come up with a single witness who was unable to vote because of the voter-ID laws. That is why their cases were eventually thrown out and the Supreme Court upheld the Indiana statute.

The idea that large numbers of “young people” lack photo ID is just ridiculous. Teenagers can’t wait to get their driver’s licenses, and college IDs are acceptable under the voter-ID laws of most states. One of the only exceptions to this is Texas, but that’s because Texas allows illegal aliens to attend its state universities: To accept college IDs would be to allow noncitizens to vote. The only “young person” that the Department of Justice could find for the recent trial over the Texas voter-ID law was an 18-year-old who claimed she didn’t have a car and her parents didn’t have time to take her to get an ID. How she would get to the voting booth even with a photo ID was left a mystery.

The idea put forward in the Politico article, that these laws were passed to hurt Barack Obama’s reelection prospects, is absurd and historically ignorant. States such as Georgia, Indiana, and Arizona passed their laws during the Bush administration. Obama won Indiana in 2008, when the ID law (which the Supreme Court called the strictest in the nation) was in effect for the first time in a presidential election.

Texas had been debating and trying to pass an ID law for years. The subject of a book, by a liberal historian, called “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” doesn’t need to pass a voter-ID law to ensure Republican victories — and a majority of Democrats in the Kansas legislature supported the voter-ID bill. Schultheis fails to mention that Rhode Island, which also passed a voter-ID law, is an overwhelmingly Democratic state. The chief sponsor of that bill was an African-American Democratic state senator who was concerned about the voter fraud he had seen in that state. He scoffed at the idea that black Rhode Islanders did not have IDs or could not obtain a free ID for voting.

Thus, there is no evidence to support the claim, as expressed in the title of the article, that “Voter ID Laws Could Swing States” — unless what is meant is that these laws could prevent the casting of fraudulent votes that could steal an election. Voter ID is a commonsense reform intended to protect the integrity of the election process for all candidates, whether they are Democrats, Republicans, or members of third parties.

— Hans A. von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former member of the Federal Election Commission and Justice Department counsel. He is the co-author (with John Fund) of Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk (Encounter Books, August 2012).

First appeared in National Review Online.