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Editorial: Still no evidence of voter fraud

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | DECEMBER 18, 2013 5:00 AM

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After a push for voter-ID laws across the nation, 12 states now require voters to show photo IDs at the polls. Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz is determined to make Iowa next.

In July 2012, he launched a two-year, $150,000 investigation into voter fraud in Iowa; after 18 months, he has found 16 cases of voter fraud in the state. Five of the offenders pleaded guilty, five have been dismissed, and none of the instances were the kind of fraud that voter-ID laws hope to prevent.

One would think that after yielding results that are much lower than statistically significant in affecting election results, Schultz would let up on the gas pedal. But even after confirming that voter fraud was virtually nonexistent, he maintains the investigation unearthed an issue, telling the Des Moines Register, “Before, the narrative was that there’s no such thing as voter fraud. That’s obviously changed. Iowans expect us to do something when we know there’s a problem.”

Schultz’s definition of a problem is certainly mystifying. In a state in which more than 1.5 million people voted in the 2012 presidential election, 16 instances of voter fraud wouldn’t even be enough to affect the outcome in one county.

In order to make the case that voter ID is necessary, proponents need to show that the current system represents a threat to a fair election. In their insistence to pursue voter-ID laws despite the rarity of actual fraud, advocates such as Schultz have made a mountain out of a molehill.

The problem inherent in voter-ID laws is that they tend to disproportionately affect some more than others. Latinos, which are now the largest minority in the United States, and other minorities are less likely to have photo IDs. In trying to prevent what ultimately turned out to be five criminal voter-fraud cases over 18 months, these laws would disenfranchise many more.

This disenfranchisement has been well documented in voter-ID legal battles of the past few years. In writing on the Texas voter-ID law, the Justice Department said a Latino registered voter in the state is at least 46.5 percent (and potentially 120.0 percent, depending on whose data you go by) more likely than a non-Latino registered voter to lack this identification.

Even in the few legitimate instances of voter fraud in Iowa, the intent was rarely malicious. In one of the cases, a mother was charged after casting an absentee ballot on behalf of her daughter. In two others, convicted felons registering for driver’s licenses also incidentally registered to vote.

Still, despite the lack of evidence showing voter fraud, Iowans want ID laws. In a February Iowa Poll, 71 percent of Iowans favored photo-ID requirements. Time will tell if, after seeing the number of actual vote-fraud cases, support remains high.

However, much of the support for voter-ID laws comes from ideological standpoints. The argument goes that any amount of fraud, regardless of whether it affects the election, is worth preventing. Media attention to voter fraud may also have inflated the perception of the problem.

In aggressively pursuing voter-ID laws, Schultz and others have created their own bogeyman to figuratively destroy. But the results of this voter-fraud investigation make it clear: Behind the hyperbolic statements and ideological lines in the sand, the case for voter ID simply isn’t backed up by reality.


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