The One Paragraph That Sums Up the Problem with Voter ID
North Carolina's voter ID law "solves" a nonexistent problem
Attorneys in the federal trial over the voter ID requirement of North Carolina’s voter ID law (which actually encompasses much more) are expected to make their closing arguments tomorrow. The law takes effect this year, and the U.S. Justice Department, state NAACP, and others allege that the law places an undue burden on minority voters and that Republican legislators had “discriminatory intent” when they passed it in 2013.
You can read about the trial, and one last year that covers other provisions of the law, in a number of different places. You can also read about similar statutes in other states. I want to focus on one paragraph at the end of a Winston-Salem Journal story from Thursday that zeroes in on the fundamental fact underlying all of it.
On Wednesday, the plaintiffs called as a witness Lorraine Minnite, a political science professor at Rutgers and the author of a 2010 book, The Myth of Voter Fraud. One of state officials’ common defenses of the law is that without a photo ID requirement, there’s no way to know whether people are getting away with the kind of in-person voter fraud a photo ID requirement would stop—someone casting a ballot under the wrong identity.
Minnite said that in-person voter fraud is rare because it is an extremely irrational act that is incredibly risky. Besides, she said, if someone is that determined to commit fraud, there’s nothing stopping that person from also using a fake photo ID.
In-person voter fraud is a felony in North Carolina. It makes no sense for someone to risk that much and go through that much trouble to cast a ballot without knowing it would make even the tiniest difference in an election.
The U.S. District judge—Thomas Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee—hasn’t ruled in the other trial; who knows how he’ll rule in this one. Discriminatory intent is a hard thing to prove in court. But we ought to clear away any of the legal considerations and remember one basic thing: The law was designed and passed to fix a supposedly widespread problem that does not exist.