In 1965, following the effort of thousands of African American citizens, President Lyndon Johnson signed in the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, which made it unconstitutional to make policies which bar African Americans from voting. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which called for federal preclearance in the 16 states which held a notorious record of discriminatory voting policy.
The states’ responses to this came not long after: the day after the Supreme Court announced their decision, Alabama declared that they would be enforcing voter photo identification laws for the 2014 election cycle, supposedly because this deters impersonation and voting fraud. This law has been around since 2011, but Alabama did not seek to implement it as it was unlikely to pass preclearance. This attempt to preventing fraud would be a noble cause, if it weren’t for the fact that voting fraud is much more likely to occur through mail-in ballots, which don’t require ID, than at a polling center. An analysis of voter fraud shows that out of the 2,068 reported accounts of fraud from 2000-2012, only 0.5% were voter impersonation. Absentee ballot fraud, conducted through the mail, ranked the highest at 24.2%. To put that in perspective, one is more likely to report a UFO sighting (over 47,000 sightings between 2000-2010) than to commit impersonation (13 convictions in the same time period).
ID’s don’t stop fraud; they stop voting.
What voter ID actually accomplishes is the disenfranchisement of thousands of poor, minority, and elderly potential voters, who are more likely to not have the necessary documents and lack the funds needed to pay for a state-approved ID. These groups are also the ones with the least amount of political power, and have the most to lose when their voice is taken out of the race. While the elderly are more likely to lean conservatively, minorities have voted overwhelmingly Democratic since 1965, and the states that enforce voter ID laws tend to be red or battleground states.
Why these groups?
The cost is an obvious factor. In Washington State, a state ID costs $54. For a family living paycheck-to-paycheck, or an elder on a fixed income, it’s not hard to see how $54 can become a luxury item. The price increases when one adds in the costs of other official documents required in order to get the ID, such as birth, marriage, or naturalization certificates. A study from Harvard found that the cost can range from $75-175, or can shoot to a price tag of $1,500 if legal services have to be included.
Minority groups in particular tend to suffer from this because they’re often grouped in with the poor. Mass incarceration, the effects of racialized housing from the 1940’s, and the disproportionate number of minorities who are arrested means that their families are left living off of a single income. When someone has children to feed and bills to pay, they’re not going to be worrying about spending a gross amount of money on an ID. This snowballs into a continued cycle of increasing incarceration rates, an inability to get ahead, and the perpetuation of minority problems being ignored on a political level.
What needs to be realized is that laws don’t require words like “segregation” or “suppression” for a policy to be discriminatory.
The 1965 Voting Rights Act changed the wording from “intent” to “effect.” Whether or not the intent was to suppress the voting rights of the poor, minorities, or the elderly, that fact remains that the “effect” is take voter ID laws do affect those groups in a negative way.
Fraud will never be something that is accepted in our country; however, suppression is something that is being accepted, and not rightfully so.