Phony War on Voter Fraud Looks Even Phonier

(Bloomberg View) -- When he talks about “rigged” elections and calls for voter-identification laws to prevent fraud, Donald Trump is squarely within the Republican mainstream. The party has made passing those laws one of its highest priorities in state after state.

Yet as the evidence continues to show, the type of fraud that voter ID laws could prevent is basically non-existent.

Now there's more documentation of this. News21, a nonpartisan investigative-journalism education project, studied cases from 2012 to 2016 in Texas, Georgia, Arizona, Kansas and Ohio -- all states where Republicans have complained about fraud. It found hundreds of allegations. But most turned out to be spurious. There were few prosecutions and a total of only 38 convictions.

When fraud is found – yes, there is election fraud in the U.S. – it almost never involves in-person voter impersonation. As election-law expert Rick Hasen has noted, the weak point in the system is the potential for fraud in absentee ballots, a problem voter ID wouldn't prevent.

Similarly, voter ID is irrelevant when the cases involve corrupt election officials, who are rare but certainly exist. Only four of the 15 convictions in Texas were of voters, News21 found. 

And even in instances when people try to cast ballots more than once, they are often beyond the scope of voter ID laws. For example, an Arizona resident voted both in that state and in Michigan, leading to a 2015 prosecution. But she was registered in both states; the problem she (and a handful of others) exploited is that no national identification system prevents those with two residences from registering in both places.

Yes, I know: Most people have photo identification and use it in lots of places, and they’ll argue that even if this kind of fraud is rare, there’s no harm done by asking voters to show a driver’s license or other acceptable card. Yet quite a few people do not have the forms of identification required in these Republican-backed laws. And those who don’t strongly tend to be African-Americans or others who have, over the years, been victims of discrimination at the ballot box.

Republicans who have pushed the tighter laws know exactly what they will do -- reduce black and Latino voting -- as a U.S. Court of Appeals found in a recent North Carolina case. No court that has looked into it has discovered any factual record of in-person voter impersonation fraud.

Just as it would be appalling – and illegal – to have shorter voting hours in black precincts than in white precincts, it’s appalling and illegal to figure out anything that will make voting more difficult for one group and enact such measures.

Meanwhile, unsubstantiated accusations of crooked elections -- claims both parties have been known to foment, but which Trump has made a rallying cry – are dangerous in themselves, as Brendan Nyhan explained at the Upshot.  

If you're sincerely worried about election fraud, then focus on absentee voting. And if you're sincerely worried about the future of democracy, you know that low voter participation, not voter chicanery, is the real threat.  

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

  1. Yes, that's true even though everyone has an opportunity to obtain acceptable cards. It's discriminatory to make it harder for selected groups to vote, even if it's possible for them to obtain what they would need to do so.

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