THE STUDY NOVEMBER 11, 2011
Lost amidst the streaming confetti that followed Tuesday’s big liberal victories in Mississippi and Ohio were two potentially disastrous voter referendum results. One was Ohio’s decision to “block” the American Care Act’s individual mandate, which my esteemed colleague explicated in great detail earlier this week. The other was Mississippi’s strict voter ID law, now the eighth of its kind in the country. The new law is simple: Except for some religious objectors and residents of state-run care facilities, voters will henceforth need to present government-issued photo IDs to place ballots. (Interesting side note: Because IDs will now be dispensed free of charge, the state estimates it will lose $1.5 million in yearly revenue.) Every time such an ID law is proposed, proponents justify its merits by citing the dangers of voter fraud. Opponents counter that the laws are nothing more than brazen attempts to disenfranchise young and minority voters. Who’s right?
Besides the circumstantial evidence that voter ID laws are motivated by partisan politics (the Koch brothers-backed outfit ALEC has played an important role pushing for them on the state level), the hard data is pretty clear: Not only does voter fraud not exist in any significant capacity, but those most likely to suffer from voter ID laws represent core Democratic constituencies. The 2006 Brennan Center for Law and Justice study The Truth About Voter Fraud points out that photo ID laws are effective only at preventing people from impersonating others at the polls, “an occurrence more rare than getting struck by lightning,” or about one in 280,000. More commonly cited examples of fraud, like ineligible voting and double voting, can almost always be chalked up to clerical errors. For example, the study found that actual fraud rate among several hundred alleged New York state double-voters between 2000 and 2004 was 0.000009 percent.
How will such laws affect voters? While it’s hard to track data on Mississippians specifically, we do know from a 2006 survey, also from the Brennan Center, that several traditionally democratic voter blocs are less likely than others to possess government-issued photo IDs: fifteen percent of citizens earning less than $35,000 and 25 percent of African-Americans, for example. Those earning more than $35,000 are twice as likely to possess IDs; whites are nearly three times as likely. Don’t believe the hype.