Starting this November voters in Pennsylvania will face stricter ID requirements at polling stations. A new law requires a voter to present an ID from a list of approved forms of identification each time before casting a ballot. Proponents of the new law, such as PA’s Republican Governor Tom Corbett, say the law will reduce fraud, but the new push for voter ID has many opponents asking about ulterior motives.
An Arizona State University, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism study found that voter impersonation occurred at a rate of only 1 in 15 million for in-person voting. By comparison, the PA Department of State and Transportation estimates that 9% of Pennsylvania’s eligible voters do not meet ID requirements. Analysts at the Brennan Center also point out that a five year prison sentence and $10,000 fine for each count of voter fraud makes it “a singularly foolish way to attempt to win an election.”
Opponents of the new law say it will disproportionately affect minority groups. A study in Wisconsin found that blacks are four to five times more likely not to have the necessary voter identification, despite being otherwise qualified. Many Democrats assert that voter ID laws are a way to disenfranchise black voters who largely support President Obama. In the last election, Obama recieved96% of the African American vote, amounting to 13% of the electorate. The new laws may also disproportionately affect college students, a group which also largely supported Obama. Making it harder for voters to cast ballots is a potentially effective way to isolate a large proportion of American voters.
Voter fraud continues to be a real problem in the minds of American voters. A poll by Rasmussen Reports found that 64% of Americans believed voter fraud was a serious issue. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens recently upheld Indiana voter ID laws saying, “Unfortunately, the United States has a long history of voter fraud that has been documented by historians and journalists.” Despite the fact that only 115 people have been convicted of voter fraud since 2002, many still believe that a large amount of voter fraud goes undetected. Undetected voter fraud undercuts the spirit and integrity of elections and could ultimately cause unrest in elections.
With six swing states enacting new voter ID laws in the last two years and 37 states considering new laws we may have a very different voting landscape this fall. As election season approaches, the challenge for legislatures is to restore faith in the process by protecting it against fraud while ensuring all eligible citizens have the opportunity to vote.
Patrick Genova is a second-year student at William and Mary Law.