You may have heard that strict voter ID laws help reduce voter fraud, but this is statistically extremely rare. In fact, studies have shown that an American is more likely to be struck by lightning than to try to impersonate another voter at the polls.
Thirty-four states currently have laws that request or require citizens to show some form of identification to vote. The ACLU points out that ten states have strict voter ID laws “under which voters must present one of a limited set of forms of government-issued photo ID in order to cast a regular ballot -– no exceptions.” While for some, having an ID is a normal part of life, more than 21 million Americans do not have government-issued photo identification.
Proponents of voter ID laws argue that it helps prevent in-person voter impersonation. However, numerous studies have shown that this type of fraud is exceedingly rare. The Brennan Center for Justice found that the incidence of this type of fraud is between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent and that it is more likely that an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”
Instead, these laws disproportionately disenfranchise the elderly, the poor, and minorities. A quarter (25%) of African American voting age citizens do not have a government-issued ID, compared to only 8% of white Americans. In fact, a number of voter ID laws across the country have been ruled discriminatory and are “now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention,” according to Judge Richard A. Posner, a member of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
A Washington Post study found “a significant drop in minority participation when and where these laws are implemented.” In contrast, white voters are largely unaffected. Below is a chart that shows the turnout gap between different minority populations and the white population. It shows that strict voter ID laws exacerbate the voting gap and that this is particularly true of primary elections.
The Post explains its chart this way: “In general elections in non-strict states [states without strong/any voter ID laws], for instance the gap between white and Latino turnout is on average 4.9 points. But in states with strict ID laws, that gap grows to a substantial 13.2 points.”