With the recent election, many issues with voting and voting rights have come to the forefront of our democracy once again. What issues are being discussed? The Voting Rights Act, State Voter ID Laws, Photo Identification and Felony Disenfranchisement, among others. In this election, people have been most concerned, and polarized, by two issues which are opposite sides of the same coin: voter fraud and voter suppression. Voter fraud is a very small problem in America. Voter impersonation, which voter-ID laws and stricter registration requirements and limits on early voting are meant to address, is exceedingly rare. The measures, however, quite clearly lead to fewer people voting. These two issues are divided across party lines, but when do the measures go too far into limiting citizens right, ability and access to vote?
Let’s look at some history, statistics, and bills to see how we got here and where we are going.
The congressionally-created Election Administration Commission(EAC) is tasked with helping states comply with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. The HAVA created the EAC, appropriated funds for the replacement of outmoded voting equipment and established new minimum administration standards for federal elections (this mandated that any new registrant must provide either a driver’s license number or the last four digits of his or her Social Security number at the time of registration). This law was written and passed as a response to the controversy surrounding the contentious presidential election of 2000 (check out this post for coverage of the Electoral College and popular vote).
The Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965, was written to protect the voting rights of minority americans. States really got started introducing new restrictions in 2012, and in response to a challenge the Supreme Court repealed section 4 of the Act in 2013, giving states more flexibility to put restrictions on voting. The Brennan Center for Justice notes there were no states with strict photo ID requirements prior to 2004, and the trend towards more restrictions has more or less exploded since 2012. Legal challenges have been made to many of the new restrictions; some have been overturned and some have been upheld.
In 2016 14 states implemented new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election: Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. The new laws range from strict photo ID requirements, to early voting cutbacks, to registration restrictions. Since 2010, a total of 10 states have implemented more restrictive voter ID laws (six states have strict photo ID requirements), six cut back on early voting time, seven have laws making it harder to register and three made it harder to restore voting rights to people with past criminal convictions.
Incidents of Voter Fraud
In Indiana, the Indiana Voter Registration Project was raided under suspicions they were intentionally submitting fraudulent applications. It was estimated that 45,000 people were not be able to vote on Nov. 8 because their applications were seized in this raid. Investigations like this became a focus after Indiana enacted stricter voter ID laws in 2006, which may have played a role in their reduced their election turn out in 2014 midterm elections. Of the 28,000 applications seized, 10 have been found and deemed fraudulent.
An Iowan woman was arrested and booked on a first-degree charge of election misconduct, according to Polk County Jail records, a Class D felony under Iowa state law. The woman cast two ballots, an early-voting ballot at the Polk County Election Office and another at a county satellite voting location, both for Trump.
Incidents of Voter Suppression
Most legislation people consider suppressive relates to the requirement of showing some form of government ID in order to vote. It is not necessarily a question of whether or not people have a driver’s license, but rather if they can obtain a voter ID. In Wisconsin, the documentation needed to vote is not a social security number or driver’s license, but a completely different form of identification all together. The passage of AB7 in 2011 now requires a person to bring proof of name and date of birth (a certified U.S. birth certificate, valid passport or certificate of naturalization), proof of identity (usually a document with a signature or photo), proof of Wisconsin residency, proof of U.S. citizenship, legal permanent resident status, legal conditional resident status or legal temporary visitor status and a social security number in order to receive this identification. For anyone, getting together all of these documents would be a hassle, especially if you are someone with an easily misspelled name or if you have a busy life, like many Americans.
2,300 cases of voters whose ballots were rejected in 2014). This year, the disenfranchisement of as many as 34,000 transgender voters could have occurred in states with the strictest voter ID laws. A report by the Williams Institute stated, “thirty percent of the voting-eligible transgender population” in these states “have no identification or records that accurately reflect their gender.”North Carolina made it more difficult for people to vote by eliminating the state’s same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting (there were
There was a petition sent to the White House asking the Obama administration to look into a case of voter suppression in Arizona in March of 2016. The suppression in this instance consisted of extremely long lines that working Americans could not afford to wait in due to less available polling stations, few (if any) polling stations open in minority populated areas of the county, independent voters being given provisional ballots (that ended up counting due to how voters were registered) and suspicious building evacuations. Any questions with recounts, investigations and other issues surrounding issues with voting are matters that the Department of Justice, state governments or in courts.
Due to early voting hours being cut, this North Carolinian had to wait hours in order to vote:
This is what democracy looks like. pic.twitter.com/n40rvpAsly
— Rachel Gurvich (@RachelGurvich) October 20, 2016
In Cincinnati – 4,000 people had to wait in line because Hamilton County OH (with 800,000 population) only had one in-person early voting location
4,000 people are waiting in line to vote in Cincinnati right now. This is how long the line is. pic.twitter.com/bilpnGsrzl
— Saahil Desai (@Saahil_Desai) November 6, 2016
According to a poll done in the summer of 2016 by Gallup, this is where Americans fell on these important issues.
Early voting, which gives all voters the chance to cast their ballot prior to Election Day
Requiring all voters to provide photo identification at their voting place in order to vote
Automatic voter registration, whereby citizens are automatically registered to vote
Here are further statistics broken up by where the parties fall on these three main issues
This conflict between Republicans and Democrats, between preventing fraud and increasing participation, came to a head in this election when US district judge in Ohio issued a restraining order against Donald Trump’s campaign, his adviser Roger Stone, and their associates to prevent anyone working on the campaign from harassing and intimidating voters at the polls on election day. The lawsuit was was brought to the court by the Ohio Democratic Party and required Trump’s lawyer justify why Trump and other members of the party had made so many comments about voter fraud, but overturned on November 6th.
The Brennan Center for Justice has a good summary of all the new restrictive laws. Here is a map of the states that had Voter ID Laws in 2016
To combat voter fraud, North Carolina proposed and passed HB589 in 2013, a law that cut a week of early voting, eliminated out-of-precinct voting and required voters to show specific types of photo ID — restrictions that election board data demonstrated would disproportionately affect African Americans and other minorities in the state. In July of 2016, a three-judge federal appeals panel struck down the North Carolina law, calling it “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.” This year, North Carolina proposed H240 to allow NC college ID to meet voter ID requirements. Virginia HB32 also adds a valid student photo identification card issued by any institution of higher education located in any other state or territory of the United States to the list of acceptable forms of voter identification.
To make voting easier, Massachusetts had two bills, one requiring ID for casting a provisional ballot and another requiring ID to receive a ballot. Florida had two bills with the same aim, to replace an “absentee” ballot with a “vote by mail” ballot. Colorado attempted to make the registration process even easier on all of the citizens by proposing a bill that would allow same day voter registration with a photo ID.
Virginia introduced HB1004 which would require a voter who does not have one of the forms of identification required by law to be allowed to vote provisionally if they consent to allowing their picture to be taken taken by an officer of election. If the electoral board determines that the voter was a qualified voter in the precinct in which they cast the provisional vote and confirms that a photograph of them taken by an officer of election has been received, the voter’s provisional vote is required to be counted.
There were also bills to increase voter education and registration in public schools, clarifying the civil right to vote for individuals convicted of a felony and about the secret-ballot envelope. There were bills ranging from criminalizing voter suppression to relating to the service of a poll watcher in an election to trying to allocate funds to educate our youth and get them to the polls.
New York decided to take their bills to the 21st century this year. A5534 provides for the inclusion of an e-mail address in the voter registration application and record, where notices and other communication required to be sent to the voter by the state board of elections would be sent by e-mail in addition to postal mail. NY370 addresses new voting technology. A5972 allows students attending a college or university in NY be able to retain his or her parental residence for voting purposes or students could register to vote from his or her residence within the college or university community depending on which community the student regards as the community of “primary concern”. Finally, NY8305 would allow people who consent to voter registration to automatically be registered to vote. They also covered what to do incase of a state of emergency, cause you know, you never know when an earthquake will happen. And the people’s vote matters.
Of course we don’t want fraud in our elections, but we do want everyone legally entitled to vote to be able to exercise their franchise if they want to. How to strike a balance between those goals is tricky business. But we should not give concerns about fraud and suppression equal weight. According to an article by The Nation comparing the two issues is “a dangerous false equivalence”. I believe the pendulum has swung far too far, and our attempts to remove fraud have resulted in alarming levels of voter suppression. Fraud is rare; we need to be much more concerned about helping people vote. I am encouraged by some of the creative measures the states are working on to increase voter participation, but I’m not sure it’s enough. Ideally we’ll once again strengthen the Voting Rights Act, but in the meantime, hopefully at least some states will continue to take meaningful positive steps.