The current campaign season has elicited an enormous amount of interest and excitement in the nation’s electoral process. In addition to unprecedented voter turnout in many of this year’s primary contests, millions of new voters also have lined up at the polls to have their say.
But earlier this year, the Supreme Court upheld a law in Indiana requiring voters to provide state- or government-issued identification, opening the door for voter ID battles in other states. Currently, 23 states and the District of Columbia have minimum photo and non-photo ID requirements.
Allegations of voter fraud include double voting, casting votes in the name of the deceased, using fraudulent addresses, and attempting to vote as a convicted felon or noncitizen. But because ID requirements vary from state to state, proponents fear that such laws will cause confusion at the polls and threaten the ability of registered voters to cast their ballots. Some even believe the voter ID battle has been waged by the Republican Party to suppress Democratic votes.
Melanie Campbell, executive director and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, likens it to the poll tax, which was implemented in the U.S. and often designed to disenfranchise poor people, including African Americans. David Bositis, senior research analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies says it’s anti-democratic. But is it really so unreasonable when identification is required for other activities, such as writing and cashing checks, applying for government services, or even renting DVDs?
“Some lawmakers want to make it harder for people to vote. For African Americans, one of the reasons we fought for the Voting Rights Act was to remove barriers,” Campbell says. “[ID laws] are just another poll tax if you can’t afford to get the state ID, whether it’s because of the cost of the ID or traveling to the location to get the ID. There’s also no standard, so people are impacted unequally, depending on what state they live in.” But perhaps more important, Campbell argues, “Legislators are setting a bad tone, not based on statistical fact, but on suspicion. There’s no data out there that says there’s a need for voter ID.” Indeed, according to a report issued by New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, voter fraud is rarer than death by lightning.
While Campbell is unwilling to go so far as to say that the push for voter identification laws is straight out of a Republican voter suppression playbook, Bositis is. “Republicans know that blacks, other minorities, and poor people vote Democratic. And in those states where Republicans can—and it only happens in states where Republicans control the legislatures and governor’s office—they are passing voter ID laws to give them a political advantage,” he says. “It’s a bad thing and it’s anti-democratic. The intent of these laws is not to preserve the integrity of voting. As Campbell said, there isn’t any evidence that there’s a problem with the integrity of voting.”
If any voter fraud is taking place, it is