Voter ID is no reform

After voter registration fraud accusations were made against a Las Vegas community group, Gov. Jim Gibbons and Nevada Assembly Republican floor leader Heidi Gansert were quick, as Republicans always are, to call for a new obstacle to voting.In the Nevada Legislature, Republicans over the years have—without fail—opposed every effort to make voting and voter registration easier and supported making it more difficult. In the 1980s GOP lawmakers tried to stop “motor voter,” which allows registration of voters at the Department of Motor Vehicles. In the 1988 election, Republicans used voter caging in Las Vegas to suppress African-American turnout.

Truth to tell, we aren’t enamored of the many techniques used to make voting easier, for the simple reason that they don’t work. Devices like mail-in registration, motor voter, and mail voting precincts have not boosted turnout.

But that’s a different thing from discouraging people from going to the polls, which has been an extension of the right’s campaign against illegal aliens. Demanding that people present identification in order to vote is simply unnecessary, because voter fraud at the voting end is almost unknown.

Yes, we know about the accusations against a Las Vegas chapter of ACORN—the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now. But they are only accusations. No one has been convicted of anything, and there are plenty of people on the political right with a stake in demonizing the leftist group by treating accusations as fact.

What is certain is the record, which shows clearly that voter fraud virtually always occurs not at the voting end but at the counting end.

When in 2007 the Nevada Legislature was considering requiring voter identification, election officials pointed out how rare voter fraud is at the voting end ("A solution without a problem,” RN&R, March 29, 2007).

“The underlying truth is we don’t have people sneaking in and trying to vote, whether they’re citizens or not citizens,” Washoe Voter Registrar Dan Burk said. “And the last thing that a person who is not a bona fide citizen of our country wants to do is possibly get themselves in a felony situation.”

Burk said he had never seen an instance of voter fraud at the voting end. Election officials in state after state say the same. As the Las Vegas Sun noted this week, “The major problem with all of this, though, is the fact that several national studies have shown widespread voter fraud to be a myth, a specter raised in large part to drive policy—photo ID laws—that is seen to suppress turnout.”

There are widespread reports that Republicans plan to challenge voters in heavily Democratic precincts across the nation.

At the polling place, the problem is not keeping people from voting, but getting them to vote at all.

If Republicans want to drive people away from the polls through voter caging, burdensome requirements, polling place challenges, registration list purging—all techniques GOP officials have used—then at least they should spare us the pretense that it represents some kind of reform.