Politics & Policy

Disadvantaged Arguments

Voter-ID facts.

The ink was barely dry on the Supreme Court’s decision in the Crawford case upholding Indiana’s voter-identification law before the editorial pages were filled with dire predictions of the mass disenfranchisement of voters. The New York Times thundered that “disadvantaged groups” would be “discouraged from casting ballots.” Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal Constitution insulted the author of the lead opinion, staunchly liberal Justice John Paul Stevens, writing that it was no surprise that “a group of wealthy male jurists favors suppression of the franchise…[a]fter all, the Founding Fathers believed that only white men should have the vote.” She must have been truly dismayed last year when Georgia’s voter-ID law was also upheld by the Georgia Supreme Court and a federal court, and was even praised in Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinion in Crawford.

Justice Stevens, who came of age professionally in Chicago, where voter fraud has been endemic for decades, held that requiring voters to show ID is justified by the interest in deterring and detecting voter fraud and preserving public confidence in the election process. However, the critical editorials have repeated the same specious arguments made in both the Indiana and Georgia voter-ID cases — there are supposedly hundreds of thousands of voters who don’t have a photo ID (and can’t obtain one), and thus the turnout of voters (particularly minorities) will be diminished.

Unfortunately for the naysayers, the facts, as opposed to paranoid fantasies conjured up by lawyers and editorial writers, don’t support those claims. Both trial judges in the Indiana and Georgia cases rejected as incredible and utterly unreliable the claim that there were hundreds of thousands of voters without photo ID. In two years of litigation, lawyers were unable, as the Indiana judge noted, to introduce “evidence of a single, individual Indiana resident who will be unable to vote” as a result of the photo-ID law. In Georgia, the ACLU sent out a desperate e-mail asking their contacts to find an individual who could not vote because of the voter-ID requirement — but they could not find one. And none of the organizations like the NAACP that sued could produce a single member unable to vote. The Georgia court found that the failure to identify any such individuals was “particularly acute in light of Plaintiffs’ contention that a large number of Georgia voters lack acceptable Photo ID.”

The Supreme Court’s decision is bolstered by recent academic studies that show voter turnout (including that of minorities) is unaffected by voter-ID laws. A national study of voting behavior from 2000 to 2006 by scholars at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Delaware concluded that concern over such laws hurting the turnout of voters was “much ado about nothing.” The Heritage Foundation’s review of the 2004 election found that voter-ID laws do not reduce voter turnout, including of Hispanics and African Americans. A 2007 survey of 36,500 individuals by M.I.T. found overwhelming support for voter ID across ethnic and racial lines, and only 23 people out of the entire 36,500 person sample could not vote because of ID requirements. A study by John Lott found evidence that regulations preventing fraud “can actually increase the voter participation rate,” showing how ID requirements encourage public confidence in the voting process as noted by Justice Stevens.

Recent election results in Georgia and Indiana also show the fallacy of these criticisms. In her editorial, Cynthia Tucker completely ignored what actually happened in February when Georgia held its first presidential preference primary with the photo-ID law in effect. The state had a record turnout of over 2 million voters, almost one million more than in its 2004 primary before the ID requirement was in effect. Voters who did not have any ID were less than 0.01 percent. The number of black Georgians who voted more than doubled from the 2004 election and there were 100,000 more votes cast in the Democratic than the Republican primary.

Indiana’s turnout in its initial elections after the photo-ID law went into effect went up two percent overall. A study by the University of Missouri found no evidence that turnout of minority, poor, elderly, or less-educated populations was reduced, and in fact, the “only consistent and statistically significant impact of photo ID in Indiana is to increase voter turnout in counties with a greater percentage of Democrats relative to other counties.” When Indiana held its presidential primary on May 6, the turnout of Democratic voters quadrupled over 2004 and over 862,000 more votes were cast in the Democratic than the Republican primary. If this was some kind of plot by Republicans to hurt Democratic turnout as critics have alleged, it did not work very well.

Contrary to the beliefs of critics like the New York Times, impersonation fraud does exist. It is true that direct evidence of such fraud is hard to come by, but for a simple reason: Election officials cannot discover an impersonation if they are denied the very tool needed to detect it, an identification requirement. Justice Stevens, however, pointed out that “flagrant examples of such fraud in other parts of the country have been documented throughout this Nation’s history by respected historians and journalists.”

The New York Times should have checked its own archives for stories of a 1984 grand-jury report finding extensive impersonation fraud in Democratic primary elections in Brooklyn between 1968 and 1982 affecting races for the U.S. Congress and the New York State legislature. This successful 14-year conspiracy included not only the forgery of fictitious voter-registration cards, but also the recruitment of crews who cast multiple votes in person using those fictitious names as well as the names of deceased, moved, and newly registered voters. Thousands of fraudulent votes were cast in numerous elections, something that would not have happened with a photo-ID requirement.

Impersonation fraud is not just part of a bygone era. Last June, a man who tried to vote under the name of another registered voter in Hoboken, New Jersey admitted to the police after he was challenged by the local zoning board president that a group of homeless men had been paid $10 each to vote in the names of other voters. In 2007, the Department of Justice won a judgment in Noxubee, Mississippi, against a Tammany Hall-type political machine run by the local Democratic-party chief. One of the witnesses testified that he saw the party official telling an individual to go into a poll and use any name to vote because no one was going to question her identity — Mississippi has no ID requirement.

The critics also miss the fact that requiring government-issued photo ID’s safeguards against more than just impersonation fraud. During recent elections, thousands of fraudulent voter-registration forms were submitted all over the country, and media investigations have found thousands of individuals registered in more than one state. Without ID requirements, bogus votes can be cast based on fictitious voter registrations or multiple registrations (or by illegal aliens). On the very day the Indiana lawsuit was argued before the Supreme Court, a newspaper discovered that an Indiana voter highlighted by the League of Women Voters was also registered to vote in Florida, where she owns a second home. She tried to use her Florida driver’s license to vote — clear evidence that the law worked to prevent double voting.

As the Supreme Court properly concluded, requiring voters to identify themselves insures the integrity of elections and guarantees public confidence. Every phony vote cast steals the vote of a legitimate voter, just as if that voter had been prevented from voting. The saddest truth of the opposition to photo ID by those critics who are supposedly concerned about the “disadvantaged” is that those who are most often taken advantage of and hurt by voter fraud are, in fact, poor, elderly, and minority voters.

– Hans A. von Spakovsky is a former commissioner on the Federal Election Commission and Counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Department of Justice; he also served as a county election official in Georgia for five years. His reports for the Heritage Foundation detailing the New York voter-fraud case and fraud in Chicago are available at www.heritage.org.

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