Earlier this month, President Trump signed an executive order to form a voter-fraud investigation panel led by outspoken voter ID advocate Kris Kobach. Mr. Trump apparently enacted this investigation mainly to soothe his ego after his popular vote loss in the general election, but it will have far-reaching political consequences nonetheless.
“Voter fraud” is a new term to cloak an old strategy: voter suppression. Laws which require voters to show valid photo IDs at the polls, lauded by many Republicans as preventing fraud, actually depress turnout among poor, African-American, and Hispanic populations who are less likely to have valid government ID, but are more likely to vote for Demorats.
In Wisconsin, where a new voter ID law came into effect before the 2016 election, 300,000 eligible voters don’t have a photo ID. The state failed to educate voters about the new requirements, and one Navy veteran couldn’t cast a vote because he didn’t know his valid drivers’ license wouldn’t pass muster since it had been issued by another state. In the end, Wisconsin, which Trump won by only 22,000 votes, cast 91,000 fewer ballots in 2016 than in 2012. We’ll never know how many of those lost ballots were cast by voters turned away in 2016 for lack of valid photo ID.
It turns out that these laws, which are disenfranchising voters, are attempts to solve problems that are unlikely to exist. According to The Washington Post, out of more than 120 million ballots cast in the 2016 election, election officials found only four instances of actual voter fraud. Researchers at Arizona State University found only 10 instances of voter impersonation fraud (the only type of fraud photo ID is designed to prevent) in all US elections held between 2000 and 2012, or one out of every 15 million voters.
Given the lack of evidence of their necessity and their discriminatory outcomes, courts across the country have struck down strict voter ID laws. Most recently, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case in which a federal appeals court struck down a North Carolina voter ID law the court found was “target[ing] African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”
In Ohio, Republican lawmakers have been toying for years with similar photo ID legislation, and with up to 1,000,000 eligible voters without valid ID in the state (IO estimate), the results could be catastrophic.