Voter ID Laws, Voter Fraud
— Malik Miah
The close primary election inside the Democratic Party between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton shows that every vote counts. The fiasco in the 2000 presidential election because of “hanging chads” also proves that every vote “not counted” does matter. And voter suppression under any circumstances — not just when elections are close — is a crime, a violation of basic rights and an attack on democracy.
Not surprisingly, the most rightwing forces running the Republican Party moved after 2000 to find new ways to limit voting rights, since in their “democracy” the votes that count are only the ones cast for their candidates.
According to Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio, “Although 24 states have enacted laws in recent years, Democrats contend that they suppress voter turnout. Since the fateful 2000 election, Republicans in many states have pushed for voter ID laws to stave off what they see as a major problem: voter fraud through voter impersonation at the polls. But studies have shown the problem does not exist.”
A case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court about the issue of voter ID fraud. The state of Indiana has imposed a new law that effectively denies voting rights to thousands. It requires anyone voting in person to present a current government-issued photo ID. If upheld by the Supreme Court it could mean millions of citizens could be denied the right to vote in the upcoming 2008 presidential election.
The Fraud that Never Occurred
While voter fraud has occurred and does take place, it doesn’t occur by voter impersonation at the polling place. According to those who monitor it, voting fraud is done in a more systematic way through ballot box stuffing, voter machine manipulation, registration list manipulation and absentee balloting.
The only people impacted by a voter ID system are those who tend to be poor, without driver licenses and low income — mainly ethnic minorities and poor working people. You would expect that this history and facts would lead the courts to throw out voter ID laws. The opposite has occurred.
According to Totenberg, NPR’s legal affairs analyst, this is how the Indiana law works.“ If you don’t have one, you can vote provisionally at the polls, but you must present the required ID at an appropriate government office within 10 days or your vote will not be counted. People who don’t have IDs can get them free from the state, but they must have appropriate documents, such as a certified birth certificate, and other secondary proof.
“The Democratic Party and the American Civil Liberties Union went to court seeking to block the law, noting that there is not a single recorded case of voter-impersonation fraud in Indiana’s history. A federal appeals court acknowledged that the law poses a heavier burden on groups that tend to vote Democratic — minorities, the poor and the elderly. But, the court said, the burden is slight.”
Proof of suppression? The League of Women Voters filed a brief with the court citing examples of those who voted in previous elections but weren’t allowed to vote because of the voter ID laws in Indiana. They cite the case of a woman in Indianapolis, a stay-at-home wife of a janitor and mother of seven children.
To get her “free” voter ID card, she had to get her birth certificate out of state, a process that she said would have cost as much as $50. And that money was needed for household bills. Not being able to vote, she said, made her feel like she wasn’t a citizen. There is no indigency affidavit provided on Election Day at the polls.
There was another case of an elderly person who had worked at her local precinct for years but did not drive, so she had no appropriate photo ID. She was denied the right to vote. The Indiana provision allows a provisional ballot but you must prove who you are within 10 days or it is tossed.
Further, reports Totenburg, “the Census Bureau and the Federal Highway Administration estimate that 11% of voting-age citizens, some 21 million Americans, lack any form of current government-issued photo ID. The ubiquitous driver’s license doesn’t exist for many city dwellers who use public transportation, or for those too poor to own a car, or for senior citizens who no longer drive.”
How could the lower courts uphold such a law? It’s become a partisan issue with Republicans generally supporting the ID law and Democrats opposing it. The courts have almost always upheld the laws saying only a few people can’t get IDs. (Some right wing proponents allege it’s necessary to fight “terrorism” and prevent “illegal aliens” from voting.) The only state to overturn the “new” voter ID law is Missouri.
Voter ID Defenders
There are some prominent “liberal” Democrats who are backing voter ID cards. In an op-ed piece in The New York Times (February 3, 2008), former Democratic President James Carter and Republican strategist James baker argued for the laws by calling for a five-year phase-in.
Their argument is based on the claim that only 1.2% of registered voters lack a photo ID. They leave out non-registered citizens — a crucial factor if a close election, or a candidate (like Obama) who inspires interest, creates possibilities for a mass voter registration drive.
Yet the Census Bureau and the Federal Highway Administration estimate that 11% of voting-age citizens, some 21 million Americans, lack any form of current government-issued photo ID. Why so high? As Totenburg noted, many city dwellers who have access to decent public transportation, or those too poor to own a car or senior citizens who no longer drive, don’t have their drivers’ license.
Voter exclusion goes back to the post-Civil War era — when voting rights for African Americans were given, then taken away so quickly when the first voter ID laws restrictions were enacted. As the Appeals Court judge who dissented in the court’s ruling upholding the Indiana law correctly observed, the pretext to stamp out voter fraud amounted to mere “fig leaf of respectability.”
“Let’s not beat around the bush,” Judge Terence Evans added. “The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democrats.”
The Indiana case before the Supreme Court was filed by the Democratic Party and the American Civil Liberties Union, a whipping boy for evangelical conservatives and for the core base of the Republican Party. With the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court being Republican appointees, most supporters of voting rights are not too hopeful of the outcome.
The decision is expected in the summer and could very well have an impact on the outcome of the November 2008 elections. It could be Bush v. Gore all over again.
ATC 133, March-April 2008