North Carolina voters may, for the first time, have to show a valid photo ID to vote in the March 15 primary. That decision is in the hands of Judge Thomas D. Schroeder of Federal District Court, an appointee of George W. Bush, who heard closing arguments of a trial about North Carolina’s new voter identification law.
The challenger to the law, led by the state NAACP and League of Women Voters as well as the US Department of Justice, argued that the requirements were racially discriminatory to black and Latino citizens. Defending the law, the State argued that the law was established to help prevent voter fraud.
A voter identification law is a law that requires some form of ID in order to vote or receive a ballot for an election. No such laws existed before 2006. Since then, a total of 36 states have passed laws requiring voters to show some form of ID at the polls. 33 of these voter ID laws are in force in 2016. Laws in Arkansas, Missouri, and Pennsylvania laws have been struck down in their states.
Voter ID laws are controversial due to the political implications. Studies show that these laws are passed almost exclusively by Republicans and that they tend to emerge in states with larger black populations. The laws can affect the turnout and alter the makeup of the voting population.
Voter ID Law: Solution for Problems That Don’t Exist
Many voters seem to mistakenly believe voter impersonation and other kinds of vote fraud are widespread. The truth is, however, voter fraud at the polls rarely exists. There is ample evidence to support this conclusion. The New York Times reported in 2007 that a five-year investigation by the Bush administration “turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections.” The Brennan Center for Justice reports that out of 3,611,691 votes casted in 2004 general election in New Jersey, there were only eight individuals who knowingly casting invalid votes—8 voters voting twice. This amounts to a rate of 0.0004%. Furthermore, none of these problems could have been resolved by requiring photo ID at the polls.
How Are Voter ID Laws Discriminatory?
Proponents of the law argue that requiring an ID is a minimal burden and the potential impact is not significant at all. It seems quite simple to show your ID in order to vote, yet it’s not as simple as it sounds.
To start with, minority voters often have less valid IDs. First, the most common voter ID is a driver’s license and minorities are less likely to have a driver’s license. Often, they can’t afford a car or their licenses have been revoked or suspended largely due to failure to pay outstanding fines. This also explains why poor people are less likely to have licenses. According to a 2007 study, in California, New Mexico, and Washington, whites were more likely to have driver’s licenses than non-whites. In Orange County, California, about 92 % of white voters had drivers licenses, compared to with only 84 % of Latino voters and 81 % of “other” voters.
While driver’s license is not the only accepted form of ID, minorities may face extra challenge in securing other legally valid IDs. Passports, military IDs, and other government-issued photo ID are generally accepted. Some states accept student ID cards from state universities while others with stricter ID laws do not. Texas accepts concealed-weapons licenses, but African-Americans are less likely to have concealed-weapon licenses than whites.
Brennan Center for Justice points out other factors. Minorities move from state to state more frequently, which makes meeting varying requirements for documents more difficult. The right to travel between states is a constitutionally protected right, yet somehow the frequent relocations of minorities seem to add burdens on minorities’ right to vote. Hispanics often use different naming customs which can make for additional confusion at the DMV or voting booth. Also, minority voters are more likely to be carded at the polls.
As such, voter ID laws become a burden on voters, imposing unnecessary costs and waiting, ultimately restricting the right to vote. All these findings support the argument that Voter ID laws will disenfranchise minorities who less often have valid IDs.
Do Voter ID Laws Reduce Turnout?
What’s more alarming is that these Voter ID laws are becoming stricter and more common. Last week, Wisconsin’s new voter ID turned away students and veterans. Many students could not vote because of the new voter ID law. Unlike New Hampshire and a handful of other states, Wisconsin does not count either college ID or a veteran’s benefits card as an acceptable voter ID. Local media reported that turnout was extremely low.
Similarly, North Carolina’s voter ID law is one of the toughest. In addition to mandating voter ID, the law significantly shortened the window for early voting, prevented citizens from voting outside their district, ended the preregistration of 17-year-olds, and stopped same-day registration, where voters register on the same day they cast a ballot.
All these requirements and restrictions disproportionately hurt minority voters and reduce turnout among Democratic-leaning voters. Republicans claim the impact of the ID law is minimal. A recent finding suggests that the ID law reduce the turnout by about 2 %. But when the question was whether the turnout gap between whites and non-whites is greater in strict voter ID states, the answer was that the law impacts far more profound consequences for the Democrats than 2% reduction in turnout.
After witnessing the tightening race in the current primary, even 2%, in and of itself, will make a critical impact on who ultimately wins and loses in the presidential election. As we have examined, voter fraud hardly exists. The right to vote is a fundamental right for everyone. The purported objectives of enacting voter ID law – prevention of alleged voter fraud that hardly exists – cannot justify the new ID law.
The general public should therefore understand the underlying motivation of Republicans passing the ID law — to reduce the participation of Democrats and those in the left. How many Democratic votes are missing as a result is still debatable. Yet it is undeniable that those missing votes could save the democratic process in the November election.