With just days to go before election day 2k16 (hold on y’all—we’ve almost made it!), more and more people are flooding Facebook feeds everywhere with their newfound passion surrounding the issue of voter fraud. However, while voter fraud is and always has been a serious issue of concern for any election, most are choosing to focus on a singular component housed under a much larger voter fraud umbrella: Voter ID Laws.
Proponents of strict ID laws say, “You need a government-issued ID for lots of things like buying beer, so why not for voting? Also, this will stop people from trying to cheat the system.” Opponents say, “Woah—this discriminates against people who don’t have government-issued IDs and can’t afford to get them. Also, this doesn’t stop fraud.”
As with most things surrounding this election—I didn’t listen to what anyone had to say about anything. Instead, I read and I researched and I double-checked to make sure what I was reading wasn’t only valid but also objective. Here’s what I found:
Real instances of in-person voter fraud have happened in recent election history—but barely.
In 2014, Loyola Law School professor, Justin Levitt, shared his work with The Washington Post that detailed allegations of in-person voter fraud—meaning instances in which “someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls” dating back to 2000. He found 31 incidents between 2000 and 2014. A.k.a. 31 attempts to cheat the system based on lax ID laws out of the nearly 1 billion ballots cast during those 14 years.
A 2012 study from ASU found similar results while analyzing thousands of alleged cases of fraud dating back to 2000. The study stated, “while fraud has occurred, the rate is infinitesimal, and in-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tough voter ID laws, is virtually non-existent.”
Voter fraud happens in private or through the mail, but not at the polls.
While I could continue to cite studies (and even one conducted by the justice department under former President Bush), I’ll take a breather from discussing types of voter fraud that don’t exist and focus on the kinds that do.
Voter fraud is rare but it has happened and it’s happened recently. For example, one group in Virginia attempted to submit fraudulent voter registration information for almost 20 dead people. That’s right — a group that supposedly encourages passerbyers to register to vote decided to play an early and illegal Halloween prank and signed up a bunch of zombies. Spooky.
There was also a recent investigation into a local election in Berkeley following reports of a mayor and his supporters tampering with absentee ballot processes. Allegedly, the mayor and/or his supporters did not follow explicit sealed-envelope laws and then went ahead and adjusted the ballots to their liking.
The overwhelming majority of these small-scale voter fraud instances—let alone ones that could have any actual impact on the outcome of an election—come in the form of absentee ballot fraud. This shouldn’t be a surprise: sending a phony ballot through the mail is easier than impersonating a registered voter while face-to-face with a trained, election inspector. It’s like that person who says whatever they want on Facebook with the comfort of a keyboard but wouldn’t do so if you invited them to your dinner party.
ID laws do not prevent fraud. They prevent participation.
Real talk: I have never had a problem attaining a government-issued ID. This is the reality for most of the friends, family, and co-workers I surround myself with. I have never had to worry about affording a driver’s license or bringing myself to a place where I can grab a similar ID. However, this is not the reality for everyone in our country. Recent estimates show that about 11% of eligible voters do not have the IDs required for voting in states with strict ID laws. For one reason or another, these people don’t have the ID needed and don’t have the ability to snag one before election day. In the interest of word counts and objectivity, I’m not attempting to advocate that everyone should get one or no one should need one. Instead, I am simply trying to bring awareness to two important facts:
Fact 1: There is a portion of eligible American voters who do not have IDs required for them to vote in this year’s election.
Fact 2: No credible evidence exists to support the idea that requiring such IDs prevents voter fraud.
‘Strengthening ID laws’ is not an effective solution for voter fraud. But we can work to find one that is.
Here’s the thing that I’ve noticed, at least, among my social networks: People are so caught up arguing that one party wants more laws to help their candidate or another wants less laws to benefit theirs they are forgetting the point: we should keep our focus on ensuring a free and fair election in this country—not on ensuring an election that prevents the party we don’t like from receiving potential benefit.
Current conversations of voter fraud are framed almost exclusively in the context of how each major party feels about voter ID laws: “Democrats want zero ID laws so they can win and Republicans want all the ID laws so they can win.” We need to stop arguing about this unfounded correlation between poll booth ID requirements and fraudulent voting. Instead, let’s start asking, “How can we work to squash the real, documented threats of voter fraud to ensure the fairest elections possible?”