Guest blog post by Barbara Gordon-Lickey, a member of the ACLU of Oregon Education Committee.

Ruthelle was born at home in rural Wisconsin in 1927. She has been an elected member of her Village Board since 1996. But she has no accepted form of photo ID and no certified birth certificate.

Amanda used to be able to vote using her student ID card. But in South Carolina, student identification is no longer acceptable.  Adopted in Georgia, Amanda’s name is different from the name on her birth certificate.  Amanda has tried, unsuccessfully, to change the name on her birth certificate.  

José is an 83-year-old wheelchair user. He does not have a photo ID. He does not drive, and, in order to get an ID, he would need to take two or three buses to get to the closest Department of Public Safety office.

Eddie Lee Holloway, Jr. is an African-American resident of Wisconsin who cannot get any of the accepted forms of photo ID because his birth certificate incorrectly reads “Eddie Junior Holloway.” He cannot afford $400-600 to get his birth certificate amended.

All of these people are U.S. citizens of voting age, and yet voter ID laws prevent them from voting. The ACLU represents many people with similar stories in legal challenges to several state voter id laws.  

Voter ID laws do not affect all groups of people equally. As many as 11% of American citizens of voting age do not have government issued photo IDs, but this figure jumps to 18% for people over 65, 25% for African-Americans, and 15% for people with incomes under $25,000.  

Most states require some form of ID in order to vote, but the exact requirements vary from state to state and are in flux in many states due to recent or pending court decisions and delayed implementation dates.

The Oregon requirements for mail registration are more liberal than those of most states. In Oregon, if a prospective voter does not have a government issued ID, the last 4 digits of the Social Security Number will do. If the voter does not have a Social Security card, other forms of identification such as a paycheck stub or bank statement will do.

Although many states claim that they will issue a photo ID “for free”, the prospective voter must usually pay for a certified copy of a birth certificate and sometimes pay again for a marriage certificate. A photo ID is not free if the voter works on an hourly basis and must lose work time to obtain it.

Proponents of strict voter ID laws assert that these laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud.  Examples of voter fraud include impersonating another voter, voting in the name of a deceased person, or voting twice. Individual voter fraud is different than vote tampering. Vote tampering occurs when election officials stuff ballot boxes or alter ballots. Voter ID laws do nothing to prevent vote tampering.

But is voter fraud really a problem? Proponents of voter ID laws assert that voting fraudulently is possible.  This may be true; election procedures are not perfect. But even if voter fraud is possible, it is very rare. Is there any incentive for casting one illegal vote, at the risk of being prosecuted for a felony?

Most allegations of individual voter fraud turn out to be the result of errors, not actual fraud. Typical errors are clerical errors in recording names or addresses, name mismatching, or signing on the wrong line. These errors are sometimes classified as fraud because they prevent voter records from being independently validated.  When allegations of voter fraud are examined in detail, substantiated claims amount to less than one-thousandth of one percent of the total votes cast. 

Fraud is sometimes alleged if the vote totals are suspicious. For example, people claiming that voter fraud is rampant may claim that, in a particular jurisdiction, more votes were cast than the number of registered voters or that 100% of the votes were cast for the same candidate. Many of these allegations are fabricated. Others result from ignorance of the demographics or voting procedures in a particular jurisdiction. Actual election data obtained from election officials almost always show that these claims are false.  

As the ACLU has pointed out, voter ID laws are a solution in search of a problem. By creating significant hurdles to voting for many citizens, the real problem is that these laws subvert the very purpose of elections. They can prevent election results from reflecting the views of all of the people.


Further reading:
Frank v. Walker: Fighting Voter Suppression in Wisconsin, ACLU
Voter Suppression: How Bad? (Pretty Bad) by Wendy R. Weiser for The Brennan Center