Access versus Integrity: Virginia’s Voter ID Law and the myth of In-Person Voter Fraud

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    by Frank Anderson

    Executive Director, Fairfax County Democratic Committee

    Also published in our monthly newsletter, The Democrat

    By signing the new Voter ID law, SB 1256, Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) has given up a lot of access in exchange for the false notion of increasing “ballot integrity.”

    Access and integrity are the two competing ideas in the debate over the recent wave of voter ID laws. Democrats and progressives want to expand access to the ballot for all U.S. citizens.  The access concept is pretty straightforward: it means every citizen should have the right to vote, and the ability to exercise that right should be made as simple as possible in order to expand civic participation. Republicans and conservatives are more focused on the integrity of the ballot. They believe that supposed voter fraud threatens that integrity, diluting the power of “one man, one vote.”

    Most Voter ID advocates have never had any difficulty obtaining an ID. They don’t understand that for some Virginians, this will deter them from going to the polls. It is inevitable that thousands of Virginians will believe, either correctly or incorrectly, that they are unable to obtain a current ID for voting.

    We received an email from an elderly, home-bound absentee voter who was concerned that the new law would bar her from voting.  Her ID had long since expired and she was unable to travel to get a new one.  I explained that the new law only covers in-person voting, not mail-in absentee voting.  (However, first-time voters voting by mail must provide a copy of their ID.)

    But this is one of the faults of the new law.  It only addresses the supposed problem of voter impersonation at the polls, which almost never happens.  Out of the extremely rare cases of voter fraud, very, very few cases of actual voter impersonation are reported – so few that, according to a recent study, they account for less than one out of 15 million voters.  

    Unfortunately, facts don’t matter to the Republicans who pushed for this legislation.  A survey conducted last December revealed that almost 50% of Republicans believe ACORN stole the 2012 election. Similarly, last year conservative radio host Mark Levin told his listeners that Mitt Romney would need to compensate for an expected 3% rate of voter fraud.  (That would translate to a staggering 1.8 million fraudulent votes nationwide for President Obama.)  This utterly false and unpatriotic notion is what is fueling the actions of the Virginia Republican legislators.

    The sad truth is that this law will result in fewer people voting.  When Virginians hear that a voter ID law was passed, many will assume that a current DMV ID is required – which is difficult to obtain for those who have lost their Social Security card or birth certificate, and those without a stable home address.  And even though the law would not be implemented until mid-2014 and requires clearance by the Justice Department, it will have the effect of decreasing turnout this year.  Any time you put up additional obstacles to voting, you cause confusion and discourage people from participating.  And when Republicans do it for no defensible reason whatsoever – to solve a problem that frankly does not exist – they reveal their true motivations.

    Fewer people voting is exactly what Republicans want.  They know that when more citizens vote, Democrats win.  That’s why they are doing everything they can to reduce voter participation and hold on to power.  Republican strategist and Reagan advisor Paul Weyrich explained this back in 1980, saying “I don’t want everybody to vote.  Elections are not won by a majority of people… our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

    In advocating for voter ID, Republicans have either been duped into believing that voter impersonation is an actual problem, or they’re going along with it because they cynically know that this will reduce Democratic votes, or both.  No matter what you believe, the truth is that the amount of integrity gained is infinitesimally small or nonexistent compared to the number of voters this will turn off.

    At the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, we will work to inform our voters of changes in the ID requirements, whatever they will be after the Justice Department reviews the law.  In the meantime, we remind voters that they still have many options for voter ID – both photo and non-photo.  Visit www.sbe.virginia.gov and click on “What ID do I need to bring?” to view the full list.