Voter ID laws stir up controversy on the left, right

Fears of voter fraud are the forces behind new voter identification laws being passed by states around the country, but some say those fears are overplayed.

States such as Georgia, Kansas, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have passed controversial laws that require eligible voters to show photo ID at the polling place in order to vote, in an effort to cut down on voter fraud. Other states, including Michigan, request photo ID but are not required. In Michigan, if a voter does not have a photo ID, the voter must sign a form saying they are not in possession of ID.

Some critics say voter fraud is an overblown issue and is being used as an excuse to disenfranchise the poor and minorities.

Political Science Professor James Hill said voter fraud certainly exists but is overplayed.

"There is certainly some degree of voter fraud in any situation," Hill said. "The question becomes 'Do you want to disenfranchise the many to get the few?' Unfortunately, it would appear that the motives of some who claim voter fraud is a huge threat to our democracy mask their real intentions, which have a more partisan purpose."

Political Science Department Chairman Orlando Perez agreed.

"The fact is that these moves to establish ID laws are aimed at reducing turnout among minority populations or among students," Perez said. "They are driven by the Republican Party in order to reduce turnout of traditionally Democratic groups."

Nine states have either passed new voter ID laws or tightened existing ones since the beginning of last year, though the U.S. Justice Department has rejected two of them, in South Carolina and in Texas, saying they place an unnecessary burden on minority voters.

A 2007 report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School found "it is more likely to be struck by lightening than that (a voter) will impersonate another voter at the polls." It also found voter fraud cases in Michigan "would amount to a rate at most of 0.0027 percent."

The report showed states with ID laws had the lowest voter turnout rates in the country.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, disputed the Brennan study, saying it is "clear in its intentions, fuzzy in its methodology and wrong in its conclusions. Such doomsday predictions of widespread disfranchisement are increasingly being exposed as untrue as more legitimate research is performed and reported."

Similarly, a study conducted by the University of Delaware and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found “concerns about voter-identification laws affecting turnout are much ado about nothing.”


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