Report: Voter ID Laws Have Caused Thousands of Legal Votes to Get Tossed

What timing. Just as the trial of Texas' voter ID law kicks off in D.C., a new analysis by the Associated Press has found that such laws in other states have led to hundreds of ballots being rejected, both in 2008's general election and in the primaries this year.

The Associated Press looked at the fate of temporary ballots cast in 2008 by voters in Indiana and Georgia, the first states to enact strict voter ID laws. Voters who came to the polls in those states without a government-issued ID were given temporary ballots, which the voters would need to verify later in a meeting with election officials.

But the AP found that often didn't happen, and that more than 1,200 of those temporary ballots were blocked.

The same issues arose again in primaries this year in Georgia, Indiana and Tennessee, where the AP says "hundreds more" ballots were tossed out. In reality, the total numbers this year in those states is rather small: Georgia tossed 64 temporary ballots, while Indiana blocked 100 and Tennessee blocked 154. But given the abysmal voter turnout rate, especially for primaries (and especially here in Texas), even small numbers of votes can make a difference.

Supporters of voter ID laws would argue that's exactly why they're needed -- because even a few fraudulent votes could swing an election. But the AP doesn't believe that's what's happening, pointing out that substantiated cases of ID fraud at the polls seem to be few and far between. The Republican National Lawyers association published a study last year detailing voter fraud prosecutions over the last decade across the country, but found only about 400 total, less than one per state per year.

In addition, many of those prosecutions dealt with "vote-buying schemes" or falsified voter registration, things an ID law would do very little to prevent. The executive director of the RLNA, though, told the AP that the numbers are deceptively low, and that a great deal of fraud goes "unreported and unprosecuted."

"The numbers suggest that the legitimate votes rejected by the laws are far more numerous than are the cases of fraud that advocates of the rules say they are trying to prevent," writes reporter Mike Baker. "Thousands more votes could be in jeopardy for this November, when more states with larger populations are looking to have similar rules in place."

NYU Law School's Brennan Center For Justice has reached a similar conclusion after years of analysis, arguing that some five million potential voters will have difficulty casting their votes in 2012. They say the restrictions will hit young, low-income, minority and disabled voters the hardest.

But Texas attorney general Greg Abott disagrees, writing in an Austin-American Statesman editorial yesterday that Texas's law isn't meant to be racially discriminatory, and that his office has investigated multiple allegations of voter fraud in recent years.

Abott doesn't add how many of those were actually substantiated, though, and fails to mention that his office has pushed especially hard to prosecute mail ballot fraud, which, again, an ID law wouldn't do much to prevent. The South Texas case Abbott once touted far and wide as an example of an "epidemic of voter fraud" actually resulted in nearly all charges being dismissed after five years of court wrangling.

But Abbott and voter ID opponents can both agree that recent elections here have been decided by perilously slim margins. "In 2012, alone, five local elections in Texas reportedly resulted in a tie and were ultimately resolved by a coin toss, a dice game or a second runoff election," the attorney general writes. (Yes, the dice thing actually happened.)

Suggestion: voter turnout being what it is, how about we do away with the elections altogether? Somebody grab a coin and let's just settle this thing right now.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan