The New Jim Crow

Voter Suppression Could Stop 1.3 Million from Voting in Swing States

Since the 2008 election, Republican-led state legislatures have passed a dizzying array of laws to keep Democratic groups from voting. Will they make Trump or Cruz president?

02.20.16 5:01 AM ET

Thanks to new laws passed by Republicans, 1.28 million votes that were cast in the 2012 presidential election won’t be cast in 2016.

That’s because, of the 12 states considered up for grabs in 2016, four—Virginia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Ohio—have passed onerous new voter suppression laws, which disproportionately affect communities of color and other Democratic constituencies.

For example, in North Carolina, the Republican-controlled legislature and Republican governor eliminated early voting days. In 2012, 900,000 voters cast their ballots during the early voting window. In 2016, that number will be zero.

The motive is clear: In 2012, 48 percent of North Carolina’s early voters were registered Democrats and 32 percent were registered Republicans, an edge of 140,000 Democratic voters. Mitt Romney won the state by just 92,004 votes in 2012 after Barack Obama carried the state in 2008. In other words, banning early voting could keep this swing state in the Republican column this November.

The Republican lawmakers suppressing voters have had help from Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices.

The Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder made it easier for states to make voting harder. Virginia quickly took advantage, passing a strict Voter identification law, which would disqualify the 200,000 voters in the state who lack photo ID. They, too, skew Democrat: the American Civil Liberties Union estimates that 25 percent of African American citizens lack a government-issued photo ID, compared to just 8 percent of whites. Low-income and elderly voters are also disproportionately affected.

Thirty states require ID of some kind to vote and 15 states require the ID have a photo. But unlike most of those other states, Virginia is one of the twelve swing states that will probably determine the outcome of the presidential election.

And it, too, could swing for a Republican over a Democrat because of voter suppression laws. If three times as many blacks lack photo IDs than whites, that’s roughly 150,000 black voters disenfranchised. In 2012, Obama won the state by 149,298 votes.

Backers of stricter eligibility to vote say these laws are essential to prevent fraud. But Dale Ho, Director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, says that excuse doesn’t wash.

“We’ve litigated over Voter ID laws in a number of states—Indiana, Pennsylvania, Washington, North Carolina,” Ho told The Daily Beast. “In none of those states were government officials able to point to a single instance of in-person voter impersonation happening.

“But in every case we’ve had we’ve identified tens of thousands of people who don’t have photo IDs. It’s a no-brainer from a cost-benefit analysis. There’s no evidence of voter fraud and plenty of evidence of disenfranchisement.”

There’s another clue to voter suppression laws’ real purpose: timing.

“Ten years ago there were zero states with a strict voter ID law, and no states cutting back on early voting,” Ho said. “All these laws started after the 2008 election, which saw record numbers of young voters and record participation by people of color” voting Democratic.

Between 2004 and 2008, the number of ballots cast by Hispanics rose 25 percent, Asians 20 percent, and African Americans almost 50 percent. Meanwhile, the number of ballots cast by non-Hispanic whites rose just 0.2 percent.

“And then, as if by coincidence, we have all these laws passed—25 in 2011-12 alone—that disproportionately impact young people, people of color, and poor people,” Ho said. “That is, to put it mildly, suspicious.”

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Not content to let the ACLU dictate the facts of the matter, this writer went hunting for evidence of voter fraud.

And I found it.

An exhaustive study by a Loyola law professor found that between 2000 and 2014, there were indeed 31 reported instances of voter impersonation out of more than 1 billion ballots cast.

But that means the odds of voter fraud are 1 in 32 million. By way of comparison, your odds of actually becoming president are 1 in 10 million; your odds of being struck by lightning are 1 in 134,906; your odds of dying in a plane (or space shuttle) crash are 1 in 7,178. That hardly seems worth disenfranchising a million voters.

So I kept looking.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is probably the most vociferous anti-fraud crusader. He even persuaded the state legislature to give him the right to prosecute cases of fraud, unheard of elsewhere in the nation. And prosecute he did—all of three cases, none of which involved voter impersonation, and none of which involved Kobach’s pet peeve, non-citizen voting. In fact, all three appeared to be mistakes, in which senior citizens voted in two states by accident.

Meanwhile, Kobach has unilaterally suspended 36,000 Kansans from voting (once again, disproportionately people of color) for not promptly proffering their birth certificates or passports as additional proof of citizenship.

Unlike fictional fraudsters, those are real voters who now can’t vote.

“We do catch other kinds of fraud,” Ho pointed out. “Passing bad checks, insurance fraud, absentee ballot fraud. And there are cases of voter registration fraud, where an organization paid people based on the number of registrations they got, and people filled out Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse and so on. The point is, we catch them.”

And yet, not a single instance of voter impersonation, or other forms of fraud that would be prevented by these strict new laws. Bans on early voting wouldn’t even prevent these kinds of fraud; it’s not clear what they’re supposed to do, other than make it harder for working people to vote, and harder for get-out-the-vote operations to help people do so.

In short, none of these laws prevent voter fraud. They prevent voting, mostly for Democrats. And thanks to new laws in four swing states, they might just prevent a Democrat from getting into the White House.