New Study Finds Voter-ID Laws Burdensome

Ten states have recently passed laws requiring voters to present government-issued photo identification before they can vote. Ostensibly, these laws are to prevent voter fraud. However, a study by nonpartisan university researchers at NYU's Brennan Center for Justice has shown that voter fraud is microscopic (e.g., 0.00004% of the votes in the 2004 Ohio election were fraudulent); the penalty for getting caught is so large (5 years in prison), and the effect of one vote so small, that nobody risks it. The very occasional fraudulent vote is invariably from an ex-felon or green-card holder who mistakenly thought he had the right to vote. Nevertheless, states persist in passing voter ID laws. Why?

As the study shows, the real effect of these laws is to disenfranchise low-income voters who are disproportionately minorities and Democrats. The legislators who pass voter-ID laws and the governors who sign them (invariably, Republicans) know this very well. By making poor people, who often don't have cars, go get (and pay for) birth certificates and voter-ID cards, they are putting up a barrier and hoping many low-income voters won't bother. A very blatant example of the intent of these laws is the office in Sauk City, WI, where voters can get an ID card—but only on the fifth Wednesday of any month. In 2012, only February, May, and August have a fifth Wednesday. Examples like that make it abundantly clear that the real purpose of these laws if to discourage low-income voters from voting but do it under the radar in such a way that most people don't know what is going on.