Loading icon

Change at the Polls

News & Features | October 22, 2012

Voter ID have laws been a source of political debate since the early 2000s. Now, with a polarizing and particularly close presidential election approaching, they have become a contentious issue that threatens the voting ability of some 20 million Americans.

The proposed Voter ID bills, which are currently being debated in over 20 states, would mandate that all citizens present certain forms of identification before being allowed to vote. While the principle may seem sound, the point of contention between the two parties is the bills’ failure to consider the context of millions of Americans. Despite America’s long-standing history of using social security cards as voter IDs, the new provisions in the proposed laws would ban the use of an ID without a photo, which means social security cards would no longer be accepted. According to data collected by the Brennan Center and various government agencies, it is estimated that 20 million Americans do not have the kinds of government-issued photo IDs necessary to vote, often for economic reasons. In certain states, students would also no longer be able to use school-issued ID as means of identification, as those states’ bills specifically state that universities do not qualify as government institutions. Many people, including individuals surviving on social security benefits and students, may be unable to afford state-issued IDs.

Election 2012 Infographic

Click on the image to view the full version.

The fact that the issue of voter identification has recently featured in the headlines of many major publications is an indication of two things: that the public is uninformed about the issue, and that the proponents of these laws have been successful at blindsiding opposition with ideas like “rampant voter fraud.” While “regulation” may be a term that Republicans have long tried to distance themselves from, it seems that they are fervently pushing for greater accountability in the election process.

However, voter fraud does not appear to have had a significant impact on recent American elections. According to a study from News21, a national investigative reporting project, there have only been 10 instances of actual voter fraud out of the 2068 alleged cases that have come up since 2000—the equivalent to one case of fraud out of every 15 million prospective voters. The proposed articles would likely prevent a minimal number of voter fraud instances, in contrast to potentially disenfranchising up to 20 million voters.

Statistically, the presence of voter ID laws seems to have little to no influence on actual voting fraud. According to research in a Slate article published last month, the implementation of similar voter ID laws in Kansas and Georgia—two of the states with the highest counts of voter fraud—have resulted in no significant decrease in incidents of fraud. The study found that Kansas, which has had voter ID laws in place since 2007, documented 97 cases of voter fraud from 2010 onwards. Conversely, the state of Maryland identified no cases of voter fraud, despite having twice Kansas’s population. The evidence points to the fact that these laws seem to have no real impact on the level of fraud on a state level.

Given that the statistics seem to counter the Republicans’ allegations of “rampant voter fraud,” a more important question may be whether or not the Republican Party acknowledges the ethics and disutility that surround these voter ID laws. While governors such as Rick Perry and others have conceded that voter fraud is relatively low, they continue to push for voter ID laws. This has prompted many to question Republican motives. Many have surmised that because of the potentially disenfranchised 20 million Americans’ demographics—largely elderly citizens, minorities, and students, all of which are groups that tend to vote Democratic—Republicans have fashioned these laws not for ethical purposes, but instead to deprive President Obama of a second term by removing his base of voters. More controversy erupted when Pennsylvania House Republican Leader Michael Turzai stated publicly that the implementation of voter ID would “allow governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” As a preemptive reaction, Democratic officials in California and Connecticut have passed bills allowing Election Day registration.

Despite Republican efforts, voter ID proposals have not met with much success in recent months. For example, a state judge recently halted voter ID laws in Pennsylvania, and a panel barred South Carolina’s form of voter ID law from coming into effect for the time being. Numerous organizations in the past few months have also become increasingly active in helping disabled citizens and minorities to obtain the proper forms of identification necessary to vote in the coming month. While Republican proponents of the legislation continue to take the moral high ground by clinging to arguments regarding voter fraud, the potential disenfranchisement of so many voters is a much bigger issue than voter fraud. Regardless of party platform, voter ID laws threaten to keep significant numbers of Americans from voting in this election.