As our regular readers undoubtedly know, Republicans have been engaged in a concerted effort to reduce voting by college students, people of color, poor people, the elderly and other Democratic-leaning constituencies by enacting laws prohibiting people from voting unless they have certain government-issued photo IDs. Supporters of such laws claim that they are trying to stop rampant in-person voter fraud – i.e., concerted efforts to have ineligible people vote in order to throw an election. But the reality is that there is no evidence of any such fraud. For example, a five-year long investigation by the Department of Justice under President George W. Bush found “virtually no evidence of any organized effort” to fraudulently impact federal elections, and other analyses have similarly found no evidence of fraud.
This past week in Pennsylvania, leading Republicans admitted in two separate circumstances that in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent. The first such admission came in the state of Pennsylvania’s response to the ACLU’s lawsuit challenging the restrictive voter ID law that was passed in March 2012 and is scheduled to go into effect for the November election. The court hearing in that lawsuit – titled Applewhite v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – is scheduled to begin on July 25, 2012, and in a pre-hearing filing, Pennsylvania (which has a Republican Governor and Attorney General) stipulated that;
- There have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania
- The state is not aware of any in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania
- The state will not offer any evidence that in-person voter fraud has occurred
- The state will not offer any evidence or argument that in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in the absence of the photo ID law
In short, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has admitted that the entire “justification” for the photo ID law does not exist.
The second Republican admission that in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent was not as direct, but is just as damning for the merchants of the voter fraud myth. Last week, Philadelphia’s Republican City Commissioner Al Schmidt (one of three City Commissioners – the other two are Democrats) issued a report titled Voting Irregularities in Philadelphia County, which documents an investigation into voting in the city of Philadelphia. The report identifies:
- one case of a voter who voted twice in the 2012 primary election
- one case of a voter – named Joseph J. Cheeseborough – who apparently impersonated another voter named Joseph Cheeseboro in a handful of elections since 2007
- a total of 19 registered voters who are not citizens, seven of whom voted in one or more elections over the past decades
- other “irregularities, such as people being given the wrong party ballot in a primary, being allowed to vote a provisional ballot on the voting machine rather than on a paper ballot, or the voter’s name not being recorded in the poll book or clerk book, are similarly uncommon and plainly the result of poll worker error rather than any sort of fraud
In summary, Schmidt’s investigation found a total of 9 voters who apparently voted improperly in Philadelphia. Given that there are more than one million registered voters in the city, those 9 voters amount to a total of 0.0009% of the total number of registered voters in Philadelphia. In other words, the improper voters in Philadelphia do not amount to even a rounding error, much less provide any evidence of a concerted voter fraud effort.
Given that voter fraud is a myth, why have Republicans been pushing voter ID laws so heavily? Because, as Pennsylvania House Republican leader Mike Turzai said a few weeks ago, the voter ID law is “going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” While we think President Obama will still win Pennsylvania, Rep. Turzai is correct that these voter ID laws are about helping to elect Republicans.
The voter ID laws seek to achieve this partisan goal by establishing hurdles that will disproportionately impact people of color, poor people, the elderly, and college students. People who lack a photo ID (such as a drivers’ license) typically need to present either a birth certificate or a passport, plus two forms of proof of residency (such as a utility bill, lease, etc.), and then make at least one trip to the DMV, where they will likely have to wait in line for at least a few hours in order to get a photo ID. The evidence that these requirements will disproportionately impact people of color, the elderly, poor people, and college students is strong. For example:
- As a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice details, while 10% of Americans lack the photo IDs needed to vote in states with voter ID laws, 25% of African Americans, 16% of Latinos, and 18% of people over the age of 65 lack such IDs.
- In order to obtain a photo ID, you typically need a birth certificate. But, as is the case with some of the plaintiffs in the Applewhite lawsuit pending in Pennsylvania, many African Americans who were born in the South during Jim Crow were often never even issued a birth certificate.
- While states with voter ID laws typically provide an option for obtaining a free ID, states with photo ID laws charge between $8 and $25 for a copy of the birth certificate needed to obtain the ID.
- Obtaining a photo ID means at least one trip to the DMV, which can be burdensome if you are one of the 3.6 million people in voter ID states who do not have access to a car and/or if you cannot afford to take time off from work. The difficulty of making a trip to the DMV without a car or with limited ability to take time off from work is heightened by the fact that many DMV offices have limited hours. For example, Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Texas, and Wisconsin have no DMV offices that are open on weekends. In addition, poor people and people of color are more likely to live 10 or miles away from their nearest DMV office, making the hurdle of getting a photo ID even higher.
- If you are living with family or friends because your house was recently foreclosed upon, or because you lost your job, etc. you are unlikely to have utility bills or other documents needed to prove your address for purposes of obtaining a photo ID.
- College students attending school from out-of-state are unlikely to have the documents needed to get a photo ID by the deadline, which is only a month or two after the college school year starts.
In short, voter ID laws are little more than a blatant partisan power grab by the GOP instituted under the false pretense of “voter fraud” that, when push comes to shove, even the GOP admits does not occur.
The good news is that these voter ID laws can be overcome, and there are organizations working to do so by helping people get the IDs they need to vote. For example, the non-partisan Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition consists of a large number of organizations from throughout the state that are working to educate and assist people in getting the ID they need to vote. The Coalition has put together a guide on how to get the ID you need to vote in Pennsylvania, has a voter protection hotline – 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) – and operates a Twitter feed and Facebook page with all of the latest news on voter ID issues in the state. The non-partisan organization Election Protection also has state-by-state guides about how to vote despite the voter ID laws in Indiana, Georgia, Kansas, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.
In our democracy, voting rights should not be a partisan issue. Unfortunately, today’s GOP has made it into one. It is up to all of us to make sure conservatives do not succeed in their voter suppression efforts so that we protect the right to vote that so many before us fought so hard to obtain.
If you want to help protect the right to vote, support one of the groups listed above, write a letter to your local newspaper editor, and commit to registering to vote at least five people for the November 2012 elections.