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The lies about voter ID

Screaming opponents of voter ID laws, who argue that such a commonsense measure suppresses the vote or is even racist, are terrible liars. The best lies, after all, have to be remotely credible, and theirs are not.

This is the most important conclusion to draw from a new and illuminating study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Researchers Mark Hoekstra and Vijetha Koppa looked at more than 2,000 election races in Florida and Michigan. In those two states, where voters are asked for an ID at the polls but can still vote without it, the study found what common sense would suggest: that nearly everyone has and brings an ID when they go to vote, even in places where it isn’t strictly necessary.

This demonstrates two things. First, as most proponents of voter IDs have acknowledged all along, there aren’t millions of fake votes being cast in elections. The point of enacting voter ID laws is not that our system is hopelessly compromised, but rather that it is needlessly vulnerable. As with measures to combat Russian interference in our elections, voter ID and similar election integrity reforms will not change election outcomes. But such reforms will bolster faith in the existing truth that we elect our political leaders democratically.

Second, the study makes clear the monstrous lies that left-wing groups have been telling about identification in general and the effects of voter IDs in particular. They claimed in court filings, no less, that as many as a million Hoosiers who are eligible to vote lack any form of legal identification. Last decade, the Brennan Center for Justice made the ludicrous claim that as many as 11 percent of all voting-age citizens – that’s tens of millions of adults, not including resident immigrants, legal or illegal – lack a photo ID.

The reminder provided by the new study is helpful, but the Brennan Center’s falsehoods were never remotely credible. One can hardly get by for a single day without showing an ID. Never mind buying beer or cigarettes, you cannot rent or buy a home without proof of identity. Most employers will not hire you without one. You may not be able to apply for welfare or housing benefits. You cannot board a plane, enroll in school, or enter most private or government office buildings without a valid ID. And, of course, you cannot drive a car.

In Georgia and Indiana, two of the early-adopting states, voter ID demonstrably failed to depress turnout in general or non-white turnout in particular. In fact, both states saw African American turnout skyrocket in 2008 under those states’ new ID rules. Yes, that was Barack Obama’s first election, but it still serves as proof that those who wanted to vote are not prevented from doing so merely because proof of identity is made a prerequisite. 

One reason those states’ laws survived court challenges was that the ACLU and other liberal groups suing to block them failed to find even a single eligible voter who would be unable to vote as a result of the laws. 

With voter ID on the books in so many states today, we’d also expect a lot more anecdotal evidence if so many people had been rendered unable to vote.

Voting is too important to leave to the honor system. Negligence degrades faith in elections. It gives rise to anxieties both founded (what if my vote is canceled out by someone impersonating absent family members or double-registered from a vacant lot?) and unfounded (“millions of people who voted illegally”).

As with measures to combat mostly symbolic threats from Russia, voter ID puts real and exaggerated fears to rest while hurting no one, as this study confirms.

This editorial first appeared in the Washington Examiner.