The recent revelation of a massive and illegal absentee ballot “scheme” in North Carolina has forced the State Board of Elections to call for a new round of voting. It has also stirred up the age-old fear of voter fraud. For decades, this has been a rallying cry for prominent politicians to not only rationalize their losses, but to call for stricter voting laws to prevent more “fraud” in the future.
Unfortunately, this has been an effective ploy. Many states, including Mississippi, Alabama, Kansas, Georgia and North Carolina have engaged in large-scale voter suppression tactics, used mainly to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of minorities. Requiring photo ID at the voting booth, illegally purging voter rolls of hundreds of thousands of names, and harassing organizations sponsoring voter registration drives are among the top weapons of choice to combat this extensive claim of fraudulent voting.
However, there is one basic problem: voter fraud isn’t nearly as frequent as these politicians claim it is. In fact, of the cases that do arise, voter ID laws wouldn’t make much of a difference. In North Carolina, there were nearly 4.8 million votes cast in the 2016 election. Of these votes, the State Board only found one vote that might have been stopped by requiring a voter ID. Justin Levitt, of New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice, determined that between 2000 and 2014, out of the one billion votes cast in the United States, only 31 involved voter-impersonation. From these statistics, it is clear that strict voter ID laws are categorically ineffective.
Another tool used to fight “fraud” are voter roll purges. They are intended to remove inactive voters from the rolls regularly, forcing them to restart the registration process. However, since they’ve begun, everything but ensuring election integrity has occurred. Since 2012, despite a growing population, Georgia’s registered voter pool has decreased. A large portion of this is due to the use of Exact Match, implemented by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, which removes voters whose information isn’t identical to other state records. Using Exact Match, address or name changes, and an irregularity of voting (which is an illegal factor of removing names), Kemp has purged over one million voters from the rolls.
Then, the Interstate Crosscheck Program, greatly expanded by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, compiled the data of millions of Americans from across the country to determine whether people were registered in multiple states. Except, Kobach didn’t use dozens of parameters to remove double voters. Instead, the ICP flagged hundreds of thousands of individuals as double voters on the basis of having just the same first and last name. When researchers from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania investigated the system, they found it had an error rate of 99%.
Purging voter rolls is not helping protect the integrity of our ballot boxes, it is only harming our democracy. Yet, voter roll purges aren’t even the most overt means of suppressing votes in the name of integrity. Georgia’s Brian Kemp targeted groups conducting voter registration drives, and investigated 85,000 newly registered voters. After the spectacle, only 25 individuals had problems with their registrations, yet not a single charge was filed. In Florida, law changes making the registration drives a difficult process to undertake forced the League of Women Voters out of the state under threat of prosecution.
Despite all the fervent attempts to clamp down on nonexistent widespread voter fraud, the result has only disenfranchised, disengaged and intimidated citizens, keeping them away from the polls. What’s more is that these suppressive measures are directly targeting minorities. The list of valid voter IDs is short, and most of them–like driver’s licenses–are less frequently owned by low income minority families. What’s worse is that forcing these families to get IDs could rack up costs in transportation and acquiring proper documents. It’s essentially a poll tax.
Voter roll purges target minorities too, as they are less likely to vote regularly. Additionally, Asians, African-Americans, and Hispanics often share common last names, which is targeted by Kobach’s Interstate Crosscheck System. In fact, out of the 100 most common last names in the United States, minorities are overrepresented in 85 of them. The voter registration intimidation in Georgia mentioned earlier was racially driven as well. The groups targeted were predominantly Asian- and African-American. The 85,000 registrants investigated, were mostly minority.
Voter fraud in our country is a hoax, a smokescreen for individuals in power to suppress minority voters and manipulate elections. The case in North Carolina is a fluke. It is one of the largest instances of voter fraud in modern American history, and most importantly, none of the laws passed by voter suppressors would have stopped it. The scheme revolved around absentee ballots, which doesn’t require photo IDs or have issues with “double voters.”
Voter fraud can happen, but it rarely does, and the tools lawmakers have used to ward off fraud isn’t addressing the actual election issues. For some politicians, it’s not about fraud, it’s about race.