Vitiate the Vote

TREVOR GILLUM – In defending his 2014 voter ID law, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proclaimed, “It doesn’t matter if there’s one, 100 or 1,000. Amongst us who would be that one person who would like to have our vote canceled out by a vote that was cast illegally?”[1] Similarly, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory heralded his state’s 2013 voter ID law as a “common-sense safeguard” against voter fraud.[2] In defending his 2011 Texas voter ID bill, State Senator Troy Fisher lamented that “without a photo ID requirement we can never have confidence in our system of voting.”[3]

Voter ID laws are a relatively novel concept, with no state prior to 2006 requiring a voter to produce a government-issued ID in order to vote.[4] Twenty-one states, led almost exclusively by republican lawmakers, have enacted new voter ID restrictions since the 2010 midterm elections.[5] The ominous rhetoric and stampede by state legislatures to enact new voter ID laws in the past six years might suggest elected officials just recently awoke to rampant voter fraud plaguing our electoral process. However, as noted by the Washington Post, numerous academic papers, governmental inquiries, investigative news reports, and court rulings have determined voter fraud is largely a myth.[6]

In 2005, then-Texas Attorney General and current Governor, Gregg Abbott, launched a $1.4 million sweeping investigation to uncover the “epidemic” of voter fraud.[7] However, during the entirety of his twelve-year tenure, Mr. Abbott uncovered a grand total of two cases that would have been prevented by the 2011 Texas voter ID law.[8]

A News21 journalism study, recently cited by Judge Richard Posner in his blistering dissent in Frank v. Walker,[9] examined 2,068 alleged cases of voter fraud across all fifty states between 2000 and 2012 and determined there had only been ten cases of in-person voter fraud that could have been prevented by photo ID legislation.[10] Considering there were approximately 146 million registered voters during this period, the ratio is roughly one case of in-person voter fraud for every 14.6 million voters.[11]

Furthermore, a New York Times examination of five years of Justice Department records prior to enactment of most voter ID laws demonstrated only eighty-six convictions of voter fraud, many of which were due to misunderstood eligibility rules and wrongly filled out forms.[12]

Many proponents of voter ID laws argue that valid photo ID is needed to fly commercially, pick up a prescription, or purchase a gun. Notwithstanding the fact that all three are commercial transactions while a person’s right to vote is a fundamental tenet of our democracy, Judge Posner points out that all three are common misconceptions.[13] The TSA permits you to fill out a form to verify your identification if you forget your photo ID at home and will still permit you to fly.[14] Moreover, thirty-five states permit you to pickup a prescription without a photo ID,[15] while federal law does not require a photo ID to purchase a firearm online or at gun-shows.[16]

So if voter fraud is largely non-existent and prominent voter ID law arguments are easily discounted, why might so many states have enacted these new laws? Perhaps one reason is that North Carolina’s new law could block 218,000 eligible voters,[17] or that Texas’ new law could turn away 600,000 eligible voters,[18] many of whom lean toward one political party. It would seem voter fraud is not the ailment these new laws seek to remedy; rather, it is voter turnout itself.


[1] James Hohmann, Walker Defends Voter ID Law in Debate, POLITICO (Oct. 11, 2014, 12:00 AM),

[2] Aaron Blake, North Carolina Governor Signs Extensive Voter ID law, The Washington Post (Aug. 12, 2013, 5:50 PM),

[3] Terrence Stutz, Texas Senate Passes GOP-Backed Voter ID Bill, The Dallas Morning News (Jan. 31, 2011, 5:45 PM),

[4] Sarah Smith & Suevon Lee, Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Voter ID Laws, Bangor Daily News (Mar. 12, 2016, 7:34 AM),

[5] States With New Voting Restrictions Since 2010 Election, Brennan Center For Justice (Feb. 4, 2016),

[6] Christopher Ingraham, 7 Papers, 4 Government Inquiries, 2 News Investigations and 1 Court Ruling Proving Voter Fraud is Mostly a Myth, The Washington Post (July 9, 2014),

[7] Voter ID Laws Target Rarely Occurring Voter Fraud, Fox News (Sept. 24, 2011), (last visited Mar 14, 2016).

[8] Voter Fraud? What Fraud?, The Houston Chronicle (Sept. 4, 2014, 10:39 AM),

[9] Frank v. Walker, 773 F.3d 783, 791 (7th Cir. 2014).

[10] Comprehensive Database of U.S. Voter Fraud Uncovers No Evidence That Photo ID Is Needed, News21 (Aug. 12, 2012, 10:39 AM),

[11] Richard Sobel, The High Cost of ‘Free’ Photo Voter Identification Cards, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice, Harvard Law School (June 2014), available at

[12] Eric Lipton & Ian Urbina, In 5-Year Effort, Scant Evidence of Voter Fraud, The New York Times (April 12, 2007),

[13] Frank, 773 F.3d at 792-793.

[14] Transportation Security Administration, Acceptable IDs,

[15] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Law: Requiring Patient Identification Before Dispensing,

[16] U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Review of ATYs Project Gunrunner 10 (Nov.2010),

[17] North Carolina’s Voter ID Shenanigans, The Washington Post (Jan. 31, 2016),

[18] Scott Neuman, Supreme Court Lets Texas Enforce Voter ID Law For Nov. Election, NPR (Oct. 18, 2014, 2:35 PM),

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