Within the past decade states across the US have increasingly pushed for voter ID laws in an attempt to minimize voter fraud. This seems optimal, however voter fraud has not been proven to be a significant threat to election turnout, while voter suppression has. The practice of enacting voter ID laws unfairly affects lower class, minority, and elderly individuals likely to contribute to the success of the Democratic party. The strategic manipulation of the electoral processes is a form of democratic backsliding, which poses a threat to one of the most essential institutions in the states: fair and free elections.
Nancy Bermeo’s article on democratic backsliding claims that “hampering voter registration” in a manner which seemingly does not come off as fraudulent, is one act contributing to strategic electoral manipulation. By claiming that voter fraud has previously jeopardized the legitimacy of elections, politicians are able to spin the narrative as if enacting voter ID laws saves the honesty of our election process. We saw this with the 2016 presidential election when Trump credited Clinton’s victory in winning the popular vote to voter fraud. Voter ID laws would make perfect sense if it was a genuine threat to the creditability of US elections. However between 2000 and 2017 the ACLU found only 31 instances of voter impersonation in a time where over 1 billion votes were cast.
Enacting voter ID laws takes place at the state level. Currently, thirty-six of our fifty states maintain voter ID requirements, seven of those requiring strict government photo identification. Requiring a photo ID to vote is a significant disadvantage to those coming from lower income or rural areas. Currently over 21 million US citizens lack a government issued photo ID.
In many cases it cost money to purchase a photo ID, retrieving documents like birth certificates and social security cards can be inconvenient while also being an additional cost to the voter. Traveling to polling locations poses another setback given that in rural areas many polling locations are open rarely and at odd business hours which can be hard to accommodate. On top of that, the nearest polling location still may be hours away from home for some individuals.
The racial disparity between those who do and do not have an ID is quite apparent. Voter ID laws negatively impact the voter turnout for minorities, as up to one fourth of African Americans do not have the necessary ID in order to vote. Politicians in the US have previously preyed on minorities to minimize their vote, as seen in the Jim Crow era. This has always been to the majority’s benefit, in attempt to profit one party more than the other. Today, minorities tend to vote democratically, that being said it is easy to see how voter ID laws benefit the political right while taking votes from left leaning citizens. University of California found that with all else equal, the voter turnout gap between Republicans and Democrats in the primary’s moved from 4.3% to 9.8% with the presence of strict voter ID requirements.
Section 5 of the Voter Rights Act of 1965 served most effectively in maintaining minimal racial discrimination in the voting process. In the 2013 decision from Shelby County V. Holder the courts effectively dropped section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Immediately after, multiple states moved to enact legislation favoring voter ID requirements which would have previously been blocked due to their discriminatory nature against minorities. Texas for example, moved to implement strict photo ID requirements within just 24 hours of the Shelby ruling, with North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi shortly after, ironically all right leaning states. The year prior, Florida attempted to purge 180,000 names on the voter roll under suspicion they belonged to non-citizens, solely based on their Latino surnames. Later it was found that only 40 non-citizens could be found attempting to illegally cast their vote.
The Brennan Center for Justice offers an abundance of evidence proving that the threat of voter fraud does not justify the states pursuit to suppress votes. Kansas Secretary of State for example, claimed he needed new power to attack the issue because “he knew of 100’s of cases” of voter fraud; 4 of those were successfully brought forth. Similarly, United States Department of Justice proved that between 2002 and 2004 only 0.00000013% of federal ballots were cast fraudulently. The numbers given in attempt to justify implementing voter ID laws show no real threat to election integrity, and they fail to prove the prevalence of voter fraud.
The cost of suppressing votes via voter ID laws, leaves out entire classes of individuals. The inability for these individuals’ votes to be heard leaves them out of the representative process that our democracy was built on. Fair and free elections have improved for years through various waves of civil rights movements. With the progression of civil rights and civil liberties, it does not make sense for these states and our current administration to push initiatives which handicap certain individuals fundamental right to vote, as doing so would be working backwards.
In the wake of the current administration, political activism has sparked within minorities, younger adults, and urban communities. While the GOP relies heavily on rural, wealthy, and business owning voters, the Democratic party is largely opposite. A significant amount of support behind the Democratic party comes from younger, working class, urban individuals. When looking at those votes being targeted or suppressed, it is clear that the intention of President Trump and the states pushing for voter ID laws is to uplift the GOP and dismantle individuals who are already marginalized.