Upon reading the news during the recent election cycle, it would not be far-fetched to believe that America was in the midst of the worst voter fraud scandal in history. In fact, President Trump blamed the “millions of people who voted illegally” for his loss of the popular vote against Hillary Clinton. Rather than accurate depictions of democracy at work, our elections are deemed unjust and unfair, even to the extent of the President himself calling our systems “rigged” at a campaign rally in Rome, N.Y.
In a time where the even the Leader of the Free World’s words must be scrutinized intently, it is important to be the driving force that dissects these radical claims.
This investigation begins with questioning, “what are strict voter laws?” According to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ index on strict voter ID laws, some states are more lenient than others on the type of photo or non-photo identification required to vote on voting days. According to the website, non-strict states allow “…some voters without acceptable identification have an option to cast a ballot that will be counted without further action on the part of the voter.” In strict voter states, voters “without acceptable identification must vote on a provisional ballot and also take additional steps after Election Day for it to be counted.” These states include Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.
The next question to ask is, “why do we have these laws?” We know the intent behind them is to stop fraud in elections. What many people do not know, however, is the different types of fraud that can occur. Voter fraud is the most famous form of election fraud: it is when an individual votes as someone else, or they vote multiple times. Registration fraud, another type, is when registration is filled out fraudulently, but no vote is cast, therefore not altering the given election. Lastly, the most dangerous type of fraud is election fraud, which includes tampering with machines and ballots, or the mass manipulation of an election.
Surprisingly, despite the mass publicity, there are not many instances of prosecutable voter fraud in the United States. According to “The Politics of Voter Fraud” by Lorraine C. Minnite, Ph.D. of Columbia University, “At the federal level, records show that only 24 people were convicted of or pleaded guilty to illegal voting between 2002 and 2005, an average of eight people a year. The available state-level evidence of voter fraud, culled from interviews, reviews of newspaper coverage and court proceedings, while not definitive, is also negligible.”
In addition, deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department Justin Levitt, followed voter-impersonation allegations in many different types of U.S. elections, such as general, primary, and municipal, from 2000 to 2014. As of August 2014, he found “31 credible instances out of more than 1 billion votes cast in general and primary elections alone.” This is not to say that voter fraud occurs and goes unnoticed: it is a federal crime and is treated as such. If we hold voter fraud to the same standards as other federal crimes, we cannot attribute the lack of reported voter crime to the lack of conviction on the government’s part.
So, why does it matter if strict voter laws are implemented if their ultimate goal is to (seemingly) serve the greater good? Although the illusion of extra protection may not hurt, it may be feeding a more sinister issue.
Strict voting identification laws create more hoops to jump through in an already-flawed voting system. Many require government issued photo identification cards, which can be extremely difficult to obtain without sufficient funds, papers, and time. This directly takes a hit at the poor, elderly, disabled, racial minority, and even college student population. Although some states may provide free government-issued IDs, the funding for this comes from taxpayer dollars that are fighting a problem that does not exist (remember, 31 credible instances over the last 1 billion votes).
These strict voter laws drive minorities away from the polls.
Looking at the statistics of the 2012 election, the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University states that 72 percent of voters in the 2012 presidential election were white. However, according to the statistics, minorities (who have the lowest voter turnout rate) vote overwhelmingly democrat. For example, although only African-American voters made up only 13 percent of the election population, 93 percent of them voted for former President Obama. Meanwhile, white Americans (who are least affected by strict voter laws), who made up 72 percent of the voting population, voted 59 percent for Romney.
Interestingly, the states that implement these strict voting laws are overwhelmingly red. While hiding behind the illusion of making elections more fair and safe, strict voter laws restrict voting accessibility and tilt it in favor of middle class, white citizens.
Historically, the disenfranchised often suffer the accusations of voter fraud crimes: those who still struggle, as Minnite states, to achieve “full inclusion in American life.” Although the strict voter laws do not violate any constitutional rights, such as the 15th Amendment, which states that the right of “citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” it drastically seems to hinder the disenfranchised and feed into the cycle of minority oppression in America, whether directly or indirectly: all while pointing the finger back to the myth of “voter fraud.”
I invite President Trump to think logically: why would “illegal immigrants” want to vote in a system that is already rigged against them, let alone face fines and jail time if convicted? I highly doubt that anyone would risk one extra vote to participate in a cycle that works against the fundamental belief that all men are created equal.