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.