Voter ID bills across the nation undermine faith in our democracy (The Hill)
The Iowa legislature sent a strict voter ID bill to the governor’s desk last week. If the governor signs the bill, which he is widely expected to do, Iowa will be the first state in 2017 to pass a new law that burdens the right to vote. But it likely won’t be the last.
Thus far, 29 states have introduced 87 bills that would restrict access to the ballot. These bills align with a troubling trend toward state laws that make it harder rather than easier to vote. But while the restrictions are familiar, the rationale employed is new and startlingly cynical.
Lawmakers for years have tried and failed to prove in court that these laws can be justified by the need to prevent nearly non-existent in-person impersonation voter fraud. Now, they argue that this strict voter ID law is necessary to address the “perception” of fraud. Iowa state representative Ken Rizer told the New York Times, “It is true that there isn’t widespread voter fraud … but there is a perception that the system can be cheated. That’s one of the reasons for doing this.”
The logic here is almost head-spinning. The “perception” of fraud is not only baseless but was created by lawmakers’ for the not-so-secret purpose of partisan gain. For years, lawmakers have been falsely pushing a myth of rampant voter fraud in order to justify strict voter identification requirements that disproportionately burden minority and poor voters, as well as students and elderly or disabled voters.
That rationale has largely failed in courts because voter fraud — and particularly the type voter ID laws would theoretically address, in-person impersonation fraud — is exceedingly rare. In Iowa, out of 1.6 million votes cast last election, only 10 were potentially improper, several of which were mistakes rather than fraud and would not have been prevented by an ID bill.
But, unsurprisingly, our elected officials’ repeated unfounded claims about voter fraud have convinced many voters, to the detriment of our democracy. The solution to this problem should be to educate voters and correct this misinformation.
Instead, legislators are asserting that restrictive voting laws are a necessary solution to the misperception problem — a problem they created in order to justify passing those same restrictive voting laws in the first place. It’s disingenuous because their intention all along has simply been to make it more difficult for disadvantaged groups to vote.
This new argument only illuminates how harmful President Trump’s false statements about widespread fraud might be. Iowa legislators’ are not the only ones employing this new tactic. Legislators in Arkansas and Nebraskahave made identical arguments in support of their voter ID bills.
This circular manipulation of the electorate to the political advantage of legislators is beyond politics as usual. Our public officials cannot be in the business of pushing falsehoods and then using their salience with the public to justify laws that limit citizens’ access to the polls.
Arkansas state representative Mark Lowery has argued that “a large percentage of Americans do not trust the integrity of the electoral system, and that in and of itself is a problem that needs to be solved, because that undermines the basic tenet of democracy.”
Lowery is right about that much. But the solution is not voter ID laws that seek to solve a non-existent problem at the expense of voters and place a disproportionate burden on minority communities that are less likely to have documents that are accepted at the polls.
Instead, growing disillusionment with the electoral system should be a reminder to legislators that their unfounded statements about voter fraud have demonstrably harmful effects on our democracy. Strict voter ID laws just create more confusion among the electorate, often leading to lower participation even among those who could qualify to vote under the laws but mistakenly believe they cannot. It is legislators’ desire to pass these burdensome laws that created the perception problem in the first place.
Rather than piling on restrictions to the right to vote, legislators should engage in forthright public education efforts to inform voters of the importance and integrity of their right to vote. Iowa is one of the highest rated states for electoral integrity. It has one of the highest voter turnout rates in the nation. Iowa has implemented several positive advances in election administration in recent years such as same-day registration and electronic and online voter registration. Iowa should be building on those successes to continue to grow the electorate.
Instead, legislators’ have chosen the cynical route of using a politician-created misperception to justify restricting access to the right to vote. While this bill provides for IDs for all registered voters, it effectively eliminates same-day voter registration for the nearly 200,000 voters without the necessary ID who are not yet registered. The law also restricts early voting and eliminates straight-ticket voting, both mechanisms that increase access and participation, particularly among minority voters.
The logic employed by these legislators rewards their purposeful undermining of the electorate’s faith in our democracy by providing them with ammunition to pass increasingly restrictive laws in the name of increasing public confidence. Voters should not tolerate this continued manipulation of the foundations of our democracy. Nor should the courts.
Danielle Lang is deputy director of voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan election law organization. She previously clerked for Judge Richard A. Paez on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and is a graduate of Yale Law School.
This piece was originally posted on April 18th, 2017 in The Hill.