Facing worsening polls, Donald Trump has brought the issue of voter fraud to the forefront of American political debate. He claims that because of voter fraud, the election is being rigged against him. It’s important to note where these claims come from; Trump is advocating for voter ID laws, a legislative monster that the Republican Party has been building up for years.

While Trump tries to frame the issue as protecting our democracy, we need to be aware of the facts. Voter ID laws are intended to prevent voter impersonation on Election Day, but, as I will prove, voter impersonation (showing up to the polls and pretending to be someone else) is non-existent. Under false claims, the issue of voter ID laws has become political. What’s really at stake with voter ID laws is the right to vote, which is an issue that should not be politicized. These laws already exist in 20 percent of states. Voter ID laws are ineffective, could disenfranchise more than 21 million Americans and must go.

The problem of voter fraud isn’t the issue it’s made out to be. Donald Trump correctly states that 1.8 million deceased people are still registered to vote, but that in no way indicates that voter fraud is being undertaken on their behalf. The much publicized South Carolina voting fraud case of dead people voting was investigated by the State Law Enforcement Division, and in an election with more than 1.3 million votes, just five possible, unaccounted-for “zombie” votes were found. Trump claims that 14 percent of non-citizens are registered to vote, but according to the managers of the database who accumulated the data he’s basing that on, “the likely percent of non-citizen voters in recent US elections is 0.”

In Florida, there are more instances of shark attacks than there are of voter fraud cases with sufficient evidence to investigate, according to Politifact. A comprehensive report published in The Washington Post found just 31 potential incidents of voter fraud out of one billion votes cast, dating back to 2008. The number of Americans killed by lightning from 2000 to 2010? It’s numbered at 441, which is 11 times the amount of potential voter fraud cases.

A research group from Arizona State University investigated 2,068 election-fraud cases dating back to 2000 and concluded that while fraud has occurred, the rate is infinitesimal, and in-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tough voter ID laws, is virtually non-existent. 

Let’s break down what we’re talking about: Voter impersonation exists on such an “infinitesimal” level that there is “virtually no voter impersonation fraud.” That is what all the data indicates over the past decade. However, to stop this non-existent problem, we have potentially disenfranchised up to 21 million Americans, roughly 11 percent of our country, which is the number of Americans without a valid voter ID who would be prevented from voting.

So why, you ask, do we have these laws at all? You might not be shocked at the answer — it’s political. Ninety-three percent of Blacks voted for the Democratic Party in the 2012 election. There is an unmistakable trend that these laws are intended to suppress, in particular, votes from minorities. If you’re doubtful, look at the trends. Twenty-five percent of African Americans do not have the necessary voter ID that some states require, while only 8 percent of white Americans do not.  The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the North Carolina voter ID law was unconstitutional, saying that the provisions “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” What led them to such a conclusion? North Carolina lawmakers actually requested data on how race affected voting behaviors. According to the lawmakers, “with race data in hand, the legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans. The bill retained only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess.”

In that race data was also research that indicated African Americans were more likely to use same-day registration and the early voting period. With this data in hand, North Carolina’s legislature eliminated same-day registration and cut the early voting period nearly in half. Most damagingly, the judges wrote that this “comes as close to a smoking gun as we are likely to see in modern times, the State’s very justification for a challenged statute hinges explicitly on race.” This is a court, not a partisan think tank. Courts around the country have slowly started to rule these voter ID laws unconstitutional in that they target minority voters.

To further prove the politicized nature of the issue, feel free to juxtapose the most conservative states with those with the strictest voter ID laws. There’s another clear trend: In general, the more Republican the state, the harsher the voter ID laws. The GOP platform actually argues for stricter voter ID laws, even though a federal appeals court has ruled them unconstitutional. If none of this has convinced you it’s political, here’s what some Republicans had to say about it. Combined with felony disenfranchisement, which by itself disenfranchises 13 percent of the Black population in the United States, an absolutely staggering number, voter ID laws are intended to build upon laws that already suppress minority voting. There is no doubt that voter suppression of minorities is a politically charged action.

Democrats and Republicans both go out of their way to politicize what should not be politicized. This is just another example, but it’s crucial to promoting real democracy. Nearly 11 percent of the country does not have proper voter ID — to disenfranchise all those people for political reasons is undemocratic. In the face of voter fraud rhetoric, we can’t lose sight of the big picture and get steamrolled. We need to be finding ways to increase voter turnout, not depress it. On the principles of our democracy, we must reduce voter ID laws, and our rhetoric around it must change.

CJ Mayer can be reached at mayercj@umich.edu.

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