Do Voter ID Laws Actually Result in Disenfranchisement?

Last Thursday, President Trump whipped up another firestorm by suggesting that November’s general election should be delayed, citing potential voter fraud due to extensive mail-in balloting as his rationale. With this latest controversy, we should expect to see not only pushback on Trump’s idea, but a revitalization of the promotion of new -- and the criticism of existing -- various voter ID laws around the country.  According to our friends on the Left, such laws are unfair, unconstitutional, and even racist.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asserted that voter ID laws are “silencing the voices of American voters.”  Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has declared that voter ID laws are “un-American,” and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a frontrunner in the Democratic vice-presidential sweepstakes, states that such laws are “intentionally designed to disenfranchise Black Americans, Latinx Americans, [and] Native Americans.”  If we are to believe the Left, voter ID laws are an existential threat to our democracy, but a closer look at the issue reveals a much different reality.

To understand the Left’s assertion, we must first understand what that perceived disenfranchisement looks like.  In an article published in Political Science Quarterly in March, 2019, the authors (Ben Pryor, Rebekah Herrick, and James A. Davis) examined the theory that “voter ID laws are expected to depress voter turnout because the ‘costs’ of voting increase when an individual has to possess, remember, and produce an acceptable form of ID when voting,” likening the inconvenience of acquiring and presenting a valid ID to an expense.  The authors’ focus is specifically on the impact these laws have on minority voters, since it is often claimed such voters are more likely to be impacted by the requirements.  Expanding on the idea, they suggest “even voters with acceptable types of ID may have their costs increased if they forget their ID when they go to the polls or if their ID is expired.”  Herein lies the objection.  The inconvenience of attaining a valid ID is unreasonable, and if a voter forgets their ID on Election Day, that voter will have been disenfranchised if they do not follow up on the state’s requirements to make the vote valid.  Therefore, it is not the would-be-voter’s fault that they forgot their ID, it is the fault of the racist law that the government is enforcing.  Claiming disenfranchisement because someone forgot their ID on election day is the electoral equivalent of a student telling the teacher that the dog ate their homework.  Only in this situation, the teacher (aka the Democrat Party) not only buys the story, they launch a campaign to have cocker spaniels outlawed.  The method of measurement used by the authors in determining the effect of such laws was to compare voter turnout expectations to actual votes.  Less votes equals disenfranchisement.  That logic itself is flawed, since there are several factors that can impact voter turnout, but despite setting such a low bar to prove the theory, the authors’ findings were inconclusive.  They could not establish a correlation between the laws and actual voter turnout.

A state frequently targeted by the Left for its unfair voter ID laws is Texas.  Digging into the details of that state’s policies and processes on the matter, it is difficult to see a legitimate reason for the criticism. There are a total of seven different types of ID that are acceptable at polling places in Texas, including one’s driver’s license and a Texas Personal Identification Card issued by the state, and an ID can be expired for as many as four years and still be acceptable at the polls. When registering to vote, the voter receives a registration certificate.  If a voter shows up at the polls without an acceptable ID, and is unable to reasonably attain one, they can still vote by simply showing that certificate and providing other types of supporting documentation such as a birth certificate or bank statement.  Furthermore, voters can apply for either a permanent or temporary exemption from the law by following the state’s Reasonable Impediment Declaration procedure, which accepts various hindrances as impediments including religious objections, lack of transportation, and disabilities.  Additionally, Texas allows for early voting for those who do not want to deal with the hassle on Election Day, and for those who do show up at the polls without any of the above requirements, they can still submit a provisional ballot which can be validated when they return with the proper documentation within six calendar days.  So, this is what all of the fuss is about? This is racist disenfranchisement?

For a democracy to work, there has to be a high level of confidence by the citizens in its elections.  If anything, confidence in the integrity of U.S. elections seems to be waning, driven by skeptics on both side of the aisle.  Then-candidate Donald Trump famously declined to commit to accepting the results of the 2016 election during a debate, and he has named voter fraud as a major concern in the past.  Hillary Clinton has apparently still not accepted the results of that election, hollering about the impact of Russian interference to anyone who will listen, and Stacey Abrams -- who lost the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race by a whopping 54,723 votes -- still claims to be the rightful winner of that election.  Quips such as “vote early and vote often” have been around for years, but they reflect a longstanding wariness by Americans of how elections are conducted.  Yet in spite of this lack of confidence, we still have resistance to safeguarding the validity of our elections. Why?

Texas has clearly made a strong effort to accommodate its voters, and opposition to such laws has ulterior motives.  The resistance to voter ID laws is not about protecting the rights of citizens, it is about enabling those who seek power to attain it and protecting those who are in power from losing it.  Any requirement that poses the slightest inconvenience for a potential vote for the Left is a problem in their mind. No one enjoys wading through any bureaucratic red tape, but the inconveniences in Texas and elsewhere are applied equally to all citizens, not just minorities.  Pointing to such laws as bigoted disenfranchisement is wrong and unjustified.  Every state in the union should be equally committed to the goal of eliminating voter fraud, but that commitment is unlikely to happen with our friends on the Left.  If possible, the Left would likely allow the electorate to submit votes via text message on their phones. Or better still, empower Democrats themselves to ask voters to whisper their choices in the Democrat’s ear so the votes can be added to the total.  Opposition to voter ID laws is an example of the absurd lengths to which the Left is willing to go in order to win elections, and the rest of us need to call them out for what they are.

For more from PF Whalen, visit the blog

Twitter: @pf_whalen

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