If there has ever been an issue of less practical or political import that has produced more litigation, legislation, public debate and passion than voter ID, I cannot imagine what it would be. I agree with the majority of Americans that producing some kind of ID to prove you are who you say you are when you vote is not an unreasonable safeguard. However, I am equally convinced that the amount of voter fraud generally is minuscule and the number of people actually showing up to vote using a false identity is even rarer. It is evident that the latter proposition is true because in none of the litigation over voter ID have any of the states defending the laws even attempted to make any showing of actual voter fraud. It was somewhat surprising to me that the courts have consistently said that the states do not have to show actual incidents of fraud to justify requiring identification. The courts have ruled the states have a right to impose reasonable safeguards solely to assure the public that elections are fair. But let’s not pretend that either side of this issue cares about the merits of the issue. This is pure political calculation.
It is a fight that Republicans picked. Polls showed that after the Florida election debacle in 2000, the public was concerned about election integrity. Apparently some GOP operatives came up with the idea that Republicans could win points with the public by playing to that anxiety and perhaps suppress Democratic turnout in the process. Democrats for their part have tried to turn the tables on the Republicans by attempting to tie the current voter ID laws to the insidious disenfranchisement of black voters in the South in the last century as part of a strategy to fire up their base.
But just as there is little evidence of any actual voter fraud, there is also very little evidence that voter ID laws actually keep many people from voting. The handful of studies that have looked at elections in states that passed voter ID laws found little evidence that they affected the turnout of any group.