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bUt wHaT aBoUt vOtEr FrAuD?

December 6, 2018

 

Alas, the hotly contested 2018 midterm elections have come and gone. Arguably, there is much to celebrate for both Republicans, who remain in control of the Senate, and Democrats, who gained control of the House of Representatives. However, every American ought to be concerned by the multiple tactics of voter suppression uncovered during this year’s election cycle. Some voters in Texas and Georgia reported their ballots being changed, long lines and excruciating heat in Georgia left voters fainting at the polls, and thousands of voters found themselves unregistered without notice. One method of voter suppression went largely unnoticed during this election cycle, and it has flown under the radar of the American people for years: the requirement of identification at the polls.

 

Voter identification is a regular practice throughout the United States; 34 states currently require a form of ID to cast a ballot, with 10 states strictly enforcing rules surrounding identification. However, voter identification laws are often altered to favor specific political parties based on the demographics of the voting population. This phenomenon was recently observed in North Dakota, as its Native American population quickly became a target for such discrimination. Native Americans make up about 5 percent of North Dakota’s population, and are more than twice as likely as other voters to lack a form of acceptable voter identification, especially a permanent home address. Because most reservations do not use physical street addresses, Native residents often list P.O. boxes as their mailing addresses, or tribal identification that does not list a street address. North Dakota’s voter identification law currently accepts tribal government issued identification “or any other document that sets forth the tribal member’s name, date of birth, and current North Dakota residential address.” Since Native American voter turnout helped Heidi Heitkamp win her Senate seat by a mere 3,000 votes, Republicans have increasingly voiced support for voter identification laws. North Dakota’s requirement of a street address on voter identification remains, despite widespread knowledge of its direct effects on its Native American population. A similar disenfranchisement tactic was observed in Georgia, where the state’s “exact match” law left people unable to register to vote, simply because hyphens in their names were not on record. 70 percent of Georgia’s pending registrations come from African-American voters, and because hyphenated names are common among African-American communities, the policy has only worked to increase that number.

 

It is no surprise that voter identification has become such a partisan issue; according to a recent Gallup poll, 95% of Republicans support strict ID requirements, compared to just 63% of Democrats. In addition, former South Carolina senator Jim DeMint, a registered Republican, admits that Republicans have kept up the crusade in support of identification policies largely “because in the states where they do have voter ID laws you’ve seen, actually, elections begin to change towards more conservative candidates.” It is no coincidence that of the 10 states strictly requiring voter identification, 9 are considered red or republican-leaning states. While many factors contribute to voter turnout, changes in voter identification laws work to sway voter behavior. Rick Hasen, an elections expert at the University of California at Irvine, spoke of his research conducted during the last three presidential elections. “In the [states] which did have a voter ID law, we saw larger declines in nonwhite turnout. And what I can say is internally, the other states which have... voter ID laws also saw declines in nonwhite turnout.” All too often, arguments for voter identification are made under the guise of protection against voter fraud; in reality, these laws come with political consequences that are taken full advantage of.

 

In addition to supposed concerns surrounding fraudulent ballots, the argument for voter identification is often centered around the other things Americans use IDs for. On January 4, 2018, President Trump tweeted, “As Americans, you need identification, sometimes in a very strong and accurate form, for almost everything you do.....except when it comes to the most important thing, VOTING for the people that run your country. Push hard for Voter Identification!” I counter Trump’s rhetoric with the following questions: Do you use any form of ID to practice your religion? To gain access to a fair trial? To express your ideas and beliefs? To protest? Identification is not necessary to protect the majority of the fundamental rights enjoyed by Americans, so why should voting be any different?

 

While Americans’ awareness of voter suppression has increased, there is not enough concern surrounding identification because its effects are so nuanced. While it may not inconvenience you to show your driver’s license at the polls, consider the hundreds of thousands of voters who have been silenced by their inability to provide identification, and the politicians who have accepted it.

 

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