I have written this oped for Reuters Opinion. It begins:
When it comes to the fight about voter fraud and voter suppression, how do you prove a negative?
One key question in the battle over the legality of voter identification laws is whether such laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud and whether they suppress a lot of votes from eligible voters.
Though the answer to the second question remains in considerable dispute, after Tuesday’s federal court decision striking down Wisconsin’s voter ID law, it is time for voter ID supporters to throw in the towel and admit state voter ID laws don’t prevent the kind of fraud they are supposedly targeted for.
President Barack Obama recently gave a speech saying voter fraud is rare. He discussed a News21 study that found only 10 reported prosecutions for impersonation fraud across the country from 2000 to 2012. Robert Popper, a Judicial Watch attorney, argued this week in a Wall Street Journal op-ed article that the News21 report was unreliable because, among other reasons, the data were incomplete.
Popper misses the forest for the trees, however. No doubt, 10 cases of impersonation undercounts the total number of instances of such fraud. But what’s crucial are the comparative statistics. In the same 2000 to 2012 period, the News21 study found 491 absentee ballot prosecutions. And though the 10 cases of impersonation fraud all appeared unrelated and not part of any larger plot to steal an election, some of the absentee prosecutions indeed involved attempts to alter election outcomes.
Relative to absentee ballot fraud, impersonation fraud is a blip on the radar. In the Supreme Court’s case about Indiana’s law, Justice John Paul Stevens had to reach back to Boss Tweed in 1868 New York and a one possible case of impersonation fraud in 2004 in Washington state to bolster the argument that there is still potential for such fraud that could justify state ID laws.
At some point, honest observers just have to admit that impersonation fraud is not a serious problem in the United States. Many suspect (as do I) that these laws — passed almost exclusively by Republican state legislatures — are part of an attempt to make it harder to cast a ballot for voters who skew Democratic.