01 July 2006

Voter ID Requirements

Governor Owens in his special session call has demanded that the legislature impose ID requirements to vote. To see why this is a bad idea, we need look no further than the examples of Arizona and Georgia.

Here's what happened in the 2005 election in Arizona:

In Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, more than 10,000 people trying to register have been rejected for being unable to prove their citizenship. Yvonne Reed, a spokeswoman for the recorder's office, said Friday that most probably are U.S. citizens whose married names differ from their birth certificates or who have lost documentation.

It takes two to three years to get a marriage license from California, if you have lost your copy, so you can prove your citizenship.

Georgia's effort to introduce this requirement was held unconstitutional as a poll tax, because it required voters to pay for an ID in order to vote. It has since salvaged its rule, but only by making a voter ID free. The requirement will still likely deprive many in Georgia of the right to vote because it was imposed at the last minute.

Here's what Senator Obama from Illinois has to say about these requirements:

There are two problems with the argument: number one, there's been no showing that there's any significant problem with voter fraud in the 50 states. There certainly is no showing that non-citizens are rushing to try to vote: this is a solution in search of a problem.
The second problem is that historically disenfranchised groups - minorities, the poor, the elderly and the disabled - are most affected by photo ID laws. Let me give you a few statistics, overall 12% of voting age American do not have a driver's license, most of whom are minority, new U.S. citizens, the indigent, the elderly or the disabled. AARP reports that 3.6 million disabled Americans have no driver's license. A recent study in Wisconsin this year found that white adults were twice as likely to have driver's licenses as African Americans over 18. In Louisiana, African Americans are four to five times less likely to have photo IDs than white residents.

Now, why won't poor people be able to get photo IDs or Real IDs? It's simple. Because they cost money. You need a birth certificate, passport or proof naturalization and that can cost up to $85. Then you need to go to the state office to apply for a card. That requires time off work, possibly a long trip on public transportation assuming there's an office near you. Imagine if you only vote once ever two or four years, it's not very likely you'll take time off work, take a bus to pay $85 just so you can vote. That is not something that most folks are going to be able to do. . . .

The Carter-Baker commission in 2002-2004 said fraudulent votes make up .000003% of the votes cast. That's a lot of zeros. Let me say it a different way. Out of almost 200 million votes that were cast during these elections, 52 were fraudulent. To put that into some context, you are statistically more likely to get killed by lightning than to find a fraudulent vote in a federal election.

Even the Carter-Baker Commission which proposed voter ID requirements, has stated that any such requirements should wait until 2010, to allow adequate time to prepare voters and election officials for the change, and should include free access to voter IDs for the 12% of Americans of voting age who don't have driver's licenses.

Waiting in line at one of the few remaining driver's license bureaus in the state to get a state ID is a relatively minor inconvenience if you are an able bodied person. It is a serious barrier if you are bed ridden in a nursing home, for example. Colorado does not currently have any provision for having state ID officials make house calls for the disabled.

Improper voting was examined closely in one recent Wisconsin race. What did the study find:

Apparently dead people 12.

[I]nterviews revealed honest mistakes occurred in most cases. One woman was upset to learn that the federal government had erroneously marked her as being dead; two men had been unwittingly voting under their dead fathers' registrations.

Felons on Parole 361

Like Colorado, in Wisconsin you can't vote if you are in prison or on parole, but aren't disqualified from voting entirely simply for having a felony conviction. Those who voted were still on parole.


Legal Immigrants Awaiting Naturalization 4.

There were no double votes.

The review looked at 370,000 voting records. Thus, roughly one in a thousand was a felon on parole, and one in 100,000 was a non-citizen, in each case apparently just shy of being a citizen.

In the 2004 election in Colorado, our experience was similar:

122 people voted twice statewide, casting absentee ballots through the mail, then showing up in person to vote on Election Day;

120 felons cast illegal ballots statewide;

In Denver, 81 residents voted twice and 52 felons cast ballots;

In Jefferson County, elections officials requested that prosecutors investigate 30 cases of people attempting to vote twice and 256 cases of suspicious signatures on absentee ballots;

In El Paso County, officials reported 23 cases or prisoners or parolees who voted. (145)

Less than one month before Election Day, The Denver Post reported that Colorado’s voter rolls contained as many as 6,000 felons ineligible to vote[.]

I don't agree with the rule that keeps felons on parole from voting, since integrating people into the community through civic involvement like voting makes a symbolic step towards rehabilitation of criminals and the social benefit involved in keeping paroled felons off the voter rolls is ought weighed by the considerable cost of enforcing the law. But, there is little doubt that this is the main source of unauthorized voters in Colorado, far overshadowing the issue of illegal immigrants voting, a non-existence problem in the state.

As the office of Donnetta Davidson, former Republican Secretary of State for Colorado noted around the time of the 2004 election:

Mrs. Davidson said she would hold a meeting with county clerks and district attorneys on Saturday to grapple with voter-fraud issues. The problem lies not with would-be voters, but with disorganized voter-registration organizations, said Davidson spokeswoman Dana Williams.

And, as a voter regisration group representative noted:

Registration fraud is different than voter fraud. Just because you register someone 35 times doesn't mean they get to vote 35 times. They can only vote once.

Similarly, Betty Ann Habig, a Centennial council member who has been volunteering in the busy Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder's office, said:

Is there a concerted effort to perpetuate fraud? No, but you have to remember, these folks are getting paid by the piece.

State ID requirements do nothing to address the largest cause of unauthorized voting, which is felons on parole voting, or address the problem of double voting, while this requirement does pose a proven risk of disenfranchising many legitimate voters by creating bureacratic hoops for them to jump through.

As Spencer Overton, a member of the Carter-Baker Commission noted in his dissenting opinion from that study, which is a main movitator for voter ID requirements:

The existing evidence suggests that the type of fraud addressed by photo ID requirements is extraordinarily small and that the number of eligible citizens who would be denied their right to vote as a result of the Commission's ID proposal is exceedingly large. According to the 2001 Carter-Ford Commission, an estimated 6% to 10% of voting-age Americans (approximately 11 million to 19 million potential voters) do not possess a driver's license or a state-issued non-driver's photo ID, and these numbers are likely to rise as the "Real ID Act" increases the documentary requirements for citizens to obtain acceptable identification. The 2005 Carter-Baker Commission does not and cannot establish that its "Real ID" requirement would exclude even one fraudulent vote for every 1000 eligible voters excluded.

The Commission's ID proposal would exclude Americans of all backgrounds, but the poor, the disabled, the elderly, students, and people of color would bear the greatest burden. According to the Georgia chapter of AARP, 36% of Georgians over age 75 do not have a drivers' license. In the United States, more than 3 million people with disabilities do not have identification issued by the government. A June 2005 study in Wisconsin found that the rate of driver's license possession among African Americans was half that for whites, and that only 22% of black males age 18 to 24 had a driver's license. The lack of government-issued photo ID is particularly acute among Native Americans, some of whom have religious objections to photo ID.

The exclusionary effects of the Commission's ID proposal are best illustrated by some of the people it is most likely to disenfranchise-the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Many who were left behind in hurricane-torn New Orleans were poor, did not own a car, and were less likely to have a driver's license. These forgotten Americans-and many like them across our nation-are the ones the Commission's ID proposal will most likely leave out of our democracy.

Overton noted in his testimony before Congress that:

[I]n states such as Wisconsin 78 percent of African-American men ages 18-24 lack a driver’s license. By comparison, a study of 2.8 million ballots cast in 2004 in Washington State showed only 0.0009 percent of the ballots involved double voting or voting in the name of deceased individuals. If further study confirms that photo identification requirements would deter over 6,700 legitimate votes for every single fraudulent vote prevented, a photo identification requirement would increase the likelihood of erroneous election outcomes. . . .

[A] statewide survey of each of Ohio’s 88 county boards of elections found only four instances of ineligible persons attempting to vote out of a total of 9,078,728 votes cast in the state’s 2002 and 2004 general elections. This is a fraud rate of 0.00000045 percent. The Carter-Baker Commission’s Report noted that since October 2002, federal officials had charged 89 individuals with casting multiple votes, providing false information about their felon status, buying votes, submitting false voter registration information, and voting improperly as a non-citizen. Examined in the context of the 196,139,871 ballots cast between October 2002 and August 2005, this represents a fraud rate of 0.0000005 percent (note also that not all of the activities charged would have been prevented by a photo identification requirement).

Given the extremely low rates of voter fraud, any procedure that disqualifies even a small percentage of legitimate voters is likely to do more harm than it prevents.

A proponent of voter ID requirements testifying before Congress described in detail about a 2005 Utah study, but his data was not very convincing:

In 2005, Utah’s legislative audit bureau attempted to undertake a systematic study of illegal immigrants who had obtained state identification cards – either driver’s license or state identification cards. Utah determined that some 383 possibly illegal immigrants were registered to vote. Utah asked ICE to review these registered voters to determine if, in fact, they were U.S. citizens. ICE examined a sample consisting of 135 of these individuals and determined that 5 were naturalized citizens, 20 were “deportable,” one was a permanent legal resident and the other 109 had no record and were likely in the United States illegally. Fourteen of these 383 individuals voted in a recent election in Utah, but ICE did not provide enough information to the state to allow it to determine whether these 14 individuals were in fact citizens.

Got that? In all of Utah, there were, at most 378 illegal aliens registered to vote, possibly far fewer, and that only 14 member of a group of 383 yellow flagged voters, 5 of whom were definitely U.S. citizens and 109 of whose status was undetermined, actually voted. If 14 or fewer illegal votes in all of Utah is the magnitude of the problem, it is hardly a major public emergency.

Hawaii had 543 people in Oahu, home to the vast majority of its population, in 2000, who might not be citizens on its voter roles. There is no evidence that a meaningful precentage of them actually voted.

Similar data comes from Harris County, Texas, which has a population of 3.7 million people, almost as large as the entire state of Colorado, and is estimated to have in that county alone, roughly twice as many illegal immigrants as the State of Colorado, about 500,000. How many foreign nationals applied to vote in 2005? About 35.

An overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives, a Republican controlled committee of the House that examined the issue, and California election officials, all found that allegations of widespread fraudulent voting by illegal aliens in the 1996 election in the 46th Congressional District between Robert Dornan and Loretta Sanchez was not substantiated.

Interestingly, most people don't know it, but the constitution does not even require non-citizens to be excluded from voting. Texas permitted it prior to 1921.

There are non-citizens on voter rolls in the United States (most probably through flaws in the motor-voter registration system) and a very small percentage of them, perhaps 3-4%, actually vote.

Non-citizen voting is hardly a pressing problem that needs to be dealt with at the last minute in a special session, as Governor Owens has insisted. Indeed, it is interesting that Republicans think that people voting is an emergency, but people not voting isn't a problem.

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