Voter ID laws negatively affect voters and democratic reform

Kevin Griffin

The North Carolina State Board of Elections is in the process of making the rules for applying North Carolina’s voter ID laws and is asking for citizen comments on the proposed rules in several public hearings, according to a board of elections press release. Representatives from the board will hold public meetings across North Carolina, including one which was held in Boone Wednesday.

The need for clarity on the voter ID law is becoming increasingly important, as 2016 is the first year the law will take effect, according to a statement from the board.

The passage of voter ID laws in North Carolina prompted anxiety, particularly among those who feel this is just another in a long line of attempts to keep minorities from voting.

For many Americans, however, the sentiment seems to be “what’s the big deal?”. An October 2012 Pew Research poll found 77 percent of Americans support voter ID, and polls consistently show high support for such laws.

While it might seem that voting laws pose no problem, an investigation of the reality shows that they are not only unnecessary but that they can create potentially undemocratic outcomes.

The need to curb voter fraud is perhaps the most cited justification for voter ID laws. As has been noted by many researchers and observers by this point, voting fraud is nearly non-existent.

Loyola University professor Justin Levitt’s report found only 31 credible cases of in-person voter fraud from 2000-14 in elections at all levels, according to an article Levitt wrote for the Washington Post in 2014.

Even if the incidence of voter fraud were substantial, other research has shown that much of the voting fraud which does occur happens through mail-in ballots, which would not at all be affected by voter ID requirements.

In 2012, the organization News 21 found, after examining information based on numerous records requests, 491 instances of fraud involving absentee ballots, while only 10 in-person voting fraud cases were found.

Since the specter of voter fraud has been so thoroughly debunked, what is the real case for voter ID laws? Perhaps it should be in place for simple, procedural reasons but without evidence of voter fraud, the case loses much of its strength.

That rationale is also unacceptable when considering the problematic feature of voter ID laws: their tendency to reduce turnout.

A September 2014 Government Accountability Office report found that voter turnout in Tennessee and Kansas had dropped between 2 to 3 percent in those states from 2008-12, a drop which was caused by changes in voter ID laws.

African-Americans, the young and the newly registered were the groups which saw the most depressed turnout.

These laws then are not just pointless, but often actively undemocratic in the way that they affect more vulnerable voter groups.

The discussion over voter ID laws is necessary at this point because 34 states have passed some form of voter ID law and 32 of those laws are in effect, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Yet, the conversation should go beyond just that to even more meaningful voting and elections reform.

Hillary Clinton’s proposal that all eighteen-year-old citizens should be automatically registered would be a sensible change. What other reason is there, aside from a desire to keep certain people from voting, to oppose this idea?

Also, why not change the way we conduct elections and make election day a holiday?

Perhaps we could even expand it to more than one day. Having more than one Election Day and giving people time off might even lower the desire for absentee voting, which should be the greatest issue for those genuinely concerned with fraud.

Ideas like these should be the end-game for serious democratic reform in the United States. Unfortunately, we will have to deal with dumb voter ID laws before we even think of getting there.

Griffin, a junior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.