As November 2012 approaches, American news sources continue to publish stories and editorials documenting the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of, necessity for, and democratic impact of voter ID laws that have been passed in recent months.
Voter ID laws are laws that define what kind of identification is required for someone to cast their vote in an election. The term seems to carry more and more of a negative charge as an increasing number of states passes more stringent laws requiring government issued photo identification.
Supporters of these laws say that more stringent requirements for voting will cut down on voter fraud. However, critics say that these laws will make it more difficult for millions of Americans to cast their ballots and likely will drive down turnout among minorities, students and the elderly – which critics are quick to point out are demographics of voters that often vote for left-leaning candidates.
Among general insistence by supporters that the laws will not cause major issues for voters, a study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School found that as many as one in 10 Americans lack the necessary government-issued photo IDs that now are required in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
Public opinion of these voter ID laws is still not set in stone, as shown in a recent public opinion poll conducted by David C. Wilson, a political science professor at the University of Delaware, and his colleagues at the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication (CPC). The telephone survey of 906 Americans was conducted by the CPC from May 20-June 6, 2012.
The public opinion poll conducted by those at the University of Delaware suggests that many Americans do not fully understand voter ID laws, according to Wilson, who believes that citizens are currently divided on both the purpose of the voter ID laws and exactly how much voting fraud, the driving force behind voter ID laws, exists in typical elections.
Reports by the Center for American Progress argue that voter fraud, while real, is far rarer than many citizens believe or politicians suggest.
“The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law carefully examines allegations of fraud to get at the truth behind the claims,” writes Justin Levitt in the report. “The Brennan Center has analyzed purported fraud cited by state and federal courts; multipartisan and bipartisan federal commissions; political party entities; state and local election officials; and authors, journalists, and bloggers. Usually, only a tiny portion of the claimed illegality is substantiated — and most of the remainder is either nothing more than speculation or has been conclusively debunked.”
For example, a 2008 Supreme Court case drew detailed briefs from the federal government, 10 states and other groups that identified only nine potential impersonation cases over the span of several years, according to a tally by the Brennan Center at New York University.
The Republican National Lawyers Association last year published a report that identified some 400 election fraud prosecutions over a decade across the entire country. But no voter ID law would have impacted any of these cases because documented cases of voter fraud often revolve around vote-buying schemes in local elections or people who falsified voter registrations.
Currently about one-quarter of African Americans, 16 percent of Hispanics and 18 percent of Americans over age 65 do not have the type of ID that the voting laws require, according to the Brennan Center report. Data like this has led some critics to argue the laws are a modern form of discriminatory voter suppression.
Additional criticisms of the law include the fact that the process of obtaining a photo-ID can be much more complicated and expensive than supporters of the law may realize, according to the Brennan Center report.
Currently, with the election a mere four months away and challenges to the voter ID laws emerging in Texas and Pennsylvania, the future of these laws remains as uncertain as public opinion of them.