In “The Breakfast Club,” a geeky high school student played by Anthony Michael Hall says he procured a fake ID not to buy beer, but to vote. But are new photo ID laws in Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin really necessary to stop widespread fraud like that perpetrated by a John Hughes character? Or are photo ID laws just another conservative scheme to oppress young people and minorities and limit Democratic turnout? Let’s put aside what we think we know about the ballot box and find out.
1. We need state voter ID laws to prevent fraud.
Prosecutable cases of voter fraud are rare. For example, a 2005 statewide study in Ohio found four instances of ineligible persons voting or attempting to vote in 2002 and 2004, out of 9 million votes cast. An investigation of fraud allegations in Wisconsin in 2004 led to the prosecution of 0.0007 percent of voters. From 2002 to 2005, the Justice Department found, only five people were convicted for voting multiple times. In that same period, federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for improper voting.
According to Barnard political scientist Lorraine Minnite, most instances of improper voting involve registration and eligibility, such as voters filling out registration forms incorrectly or a person with felony convictions attempting to register. Neither of those issues would be prevented by a state photo ID requirement. According to George Washington University law professor Spencer Overton, a former member of the Commission on Federal Election Reform, “a photo ID requirement would prevent over 1,000 legitimate votes (perhaps over 10,000 legitimate votes) for every single improper vote prevented.”
2. Requiring identification at the polls affects all voters equally.
In The Washington Post, Kansas Secretary of StateKris Kobach recently defended what he called the “reasonable” new photo ID requirements. “It’s absurd to suggest that anyone is ‘disenfranchised’ by such protective measures,” he wrote in July.
He’s wrong. State photo ID restrictions disproportionately affect African Americans, Latinos, young voters, people over 65 and people with disabilities. Advancement Project studies show that 11 percent of eligible voters, or about 21 million people, don’t have updated, state-issued photo IDs: 25 percent of African Americans, 15 percent of those earning less than $35,000, 18 percent of citizens age 65 or older and 20 percent of voters age 18 to 29.
The push for photo ID laws and other restrictions is largely championed by the GOP and conservative groups. Record rates of voter registration and turnout among young and minority voters in 2008 affected federal races across the nation, as about two-thirds of new voters registered as Democrats in the 29 states that record party affiliation. The 2010 midterms put more conservatives in office who want to combat this trend. The right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, for example, drafted and promoted photo ID legislation that was introduced in more than 30 states.