Let’s Get Real: Voter ID Laws Aren’t All about Stopping Fraud

September 11, 2012; Source: The Daily Advertiser

Voter identification laws requiring photo IDs are only targeting one kind of fraud: the kind in which someone tries to impersonate someone else to be able to vote. In the debate over voter IDs and voter fraud, other kinds of fraud, such as the alleged voter fraud of Wendy Rosen, the Democratic candidate for Congress from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, wouldn’t be affected. According to a letter from Maryland’s Democratic Party to Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, Rosen allegedly voted in Maryland and in Florida in the 2006 and 2008 elections, having been registered to vote in both states. If so, we’ll bet a dime that Rosen had a photo ID to show in each state. Photo IDs would block impersonation fraud, which studies show is very infrequent. One wonders if—or if so, why—the public thinks that photo IDs would extinguish the many other kinds of voter fraud that have nothing to do with impersonation. 

Louisiana’s voter ID law has been cast as a compromise between the strict laws that require photo IDs and those states without voter ID laws. To vote in Louisiana, voters can show a driver’s license, a free “Louisiana Special ID” obtainable at the Office of Motor Vehicles, or “some other generally recognized picture ID that contains your name and signature.” Louisiana voters with no picture ID can bring a utility bill or payroll check that includes their name and address, but they will have to sign a state Election Division affidavit at the polling place in order to vote. Democrats and Republicans in Louisiana seem to be satisfied with this compromise structure, which Ryan Teten, a political scientist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, calls “a good, moderate approach.” 

Is the concern really about voter fraud? Or is there an intent on the part of the legislators in some states to achieve a political goal? For example, News21, funded by the Carnegie Corporation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, reports that more than half of the state bills proposing photo ID requirements were proposed by legislators with ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It’s not like ALEC is quite as nonpartisan as its 501(c)(3) status would imply. ALEC also holds to other conservative policies such as vouchers for school choice and, prior to the Trayvon Martin case, the infamous “stand your ground” laws (though ALEC has since backed off of its former “stand your ground” advocacy). 

Rampant voter fraud? For the voters who signed affidavits rather than presenting photo ID in the 2008 election in Louisiana’s 64 parishes, audits conducted by the office of Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler revealed not one instance of voter fraud. Not one. Not even one that the auditors had questions about. In Louisiana? The state where former Gov. Edwin Edwards just finished eight years in federal prison for bribery, extortion, and racketeering? The state where Edwards bumper stickers read, “Vote for the Crook: It’s Important” (Edwards won in a landslide against former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke)?

If Louisiana hasn’t been plagued by fraudulent voter impersonation by people who have signed affidavits rather than presenting photo IDs, doesn’t that say something about what’s really going on with the effort to enact voter ID laws in so many states?—Rick Cohen