Column: Widespread voter fraud is a myth. So why do states push voter ID laws?

While conservative media perpetuates a myth of widespread voter fraud, conservative legislatures use voter ID laws to intentionally suppress the vote.

Bryce Kolk is a freshman journalism major at MU. He is an opinion columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

Voter ID laws solve a non-existent problem.

These laws, which require voters to bring some form of ID to the polls, are intended to curb an epidemic of widespread voter fraud. Missouri is one of 34 states with a voter ID law.

Widespread voter fraud, however, is a myth. When President Trump claimed there is “substantial evidence of voter fraud,” Politifact rated that statement false.

Just 31 cases of voter fraud since 2000 could have been prevented by voter ID laws, according to a study by Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School. Out of one billion votes cast, only a handful could be considered fraudulent.

Many supporters of voter ID cite the Heritage Foundation’s study as evidence of widespread voter fraud, despite most other studies coming to the opposite conclusion. The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank with the sole intention of promoting conservative policies. It has found 1,177 cases of voter fraud in its tally, as of Nov. 10. Of these cases, only a fraction apply to the last five years. Others date as far back as 1948.

In the original study, only ten cases of impersonation voting, the kind voter ID laws are intended to prevent, were found. Many highlight how functional the system already is, as the perpetrators were discovered and prevented from voting. Only 41 cases over 50 years came from non-citizens voting, registering or attempting to vote, or 0.82 cases per year.

President Trump tweeted that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Other conservative outlets claimed that three million votes were cast by “illegal aliens” in 2016 alone.

It should be noted, 0.82 and three million are different numbers.

Though not as strict as other states, Missouri’s voter ID laws make it harder to vote. Missouri voters have to be able to prove their identity. A voter without an ID may sign a provisional ballot and return with photo ID. If the voter does not return with photo ID, the provisional ballot will still be counted as long as the signature matches the one on their registration.

Though the law itself is more reasonable than others, the implementation has caused confusion as to what is actually required. In October, a judge directed Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft to clearly advertise the requirements to the public. Ashcroft had incorrectly advertised that photo ID is required to vote. Confusion surrounding this requirement could discourage voters from going to the polls.

Rather than prevent illegitimate votes, voter ID laws only succeed in making it harder for registered Americans to vote.

When conservatives call for stricter ID laws under the guise of widespread voter fraud, it’s really a dog whistle used to discriminate against specific voters.

These laws that require ID to vote target those without IDs, who tend to be poor, black, Latino or elderly. “Substantial drops in turnout for minorities under strict voter ID laws” were found between 2008 and 2012 in a study by researchers at the University of California at San Diego. In Texas, a state with recent passage of a voter ID law, black voters made up 11.4 percent of voters with ID, but 16.1 percent of voters without it, according to FiveThirtyEight. This highlights a racial disparity in who can vote.

Put another way, most affected by voter ID laws are Democrats.

Regardless of one’s political leanings, it should be agreeable that elections should reflect their voting population. Voter ID laws intentionally undermine that principle.

Americans trail most of the developed world in voter turnout. In our beaconing democracy, only 55 percent of registered voters actually voted in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2016, 117 million registered Americans didn’t vote, compared to 63 million that voted for President Trump. Put another way, more registered Americans elected not to vote than elected the president.

In North Carolina, in addition to adding voter ID laws, lawmakers sh In 2014’s midterm, just 36.4 percent of voters turned out, according to the United States Election Project marking a 70-year low.

Our democracy cannot afford to lose voters.

Voter ID laws aren’t the only praut down early voting on Sundays, with the justification that most Sunday voters were “disproportionately black” and “disproportionately Democratic,” according to documents provided by the state.

Missouri does not offer no-excuse early voting on any day, but absentee ballots can be filled out at one’s local election authority.

College students also suffer from these attacks on democracy.

In Michigan, college students are suing the state, claiming laws make it too hard for young people to vote. Two statutes will be examined. One mandates that anyone who registers to vote by mail or through a third party must vote in person for their first election. The other would require a voter’s registration address to match the one on their driver’s license.

Voting in person can be difficult for college students specifically, as many are miles, or even states, away from their districts. Requiring registration addresses to match driver’s license addresses can impact anyone who frequently moves residences, students included.

Absentee voting, a popular way of voting for college students, can also be dicey. In Georgia alone, roughly 319,000 absentee ballots were rejected for various reasons, according to NBC News. Nationwide, nearly one in four votes came through mail in or drop off absentee ballots.

If you voted absentee, there’s a chance your ballot simply didn’t count.

Modernizing our voting systems can help smooth out inconsistencies.

Automatic Voter Registration is the best short term solution there is to modernizing voting systems. It has already been approved in 13 states from coast to coast since Oregon became the first in 2016. Missouri does not have AVR.

AVR makes two small changes to the current system.

First, AVR makes registration opt-out rather than opt-in, ensuring more are registered to vote. Turnout in Oregon, the pioneer state of the policy, increased more between 2012 and 2016 than any other state. While voter ID laws disproportionately hurt racial minorities, AVR increased the racial diversity of Oregon’s voters.

AVR’s second change would take aim at outdated voter rolls. Information in AVR states is transferred electronically, rather than using paper forms. Outdated rolls can lead to inconsistencies that make it harder for registered citizens to vote.

Strict voting laws serve no purpose but to secure Republican votes and drive down turnout. Dispelling myths about fraud is an important first step in reforming our democracy.

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