On voter ID, GAO report issues the definitive ruling

A new report by the Government Accountability Office has confirmed what other researchers and unbiased observers knew all along: the whole voter ID controversy is a scam intended to drive down voter turnout among groups that do not tend to vote Republican, and unfortunately, to some degree that scam has succeeded.

Now, the stern, academically minded folks at the GAO did not put it in quite those terms. But after its researchers compared voting patterns in six similar states in both the 2012 and 2008 elections, including two states -- Tennessee and Kansas -- that had passed voter-ID laws post 2008, it reached a clear conclusion:

"GAO's analysis suggests that the turnout decreases in Kansas and Tennessee beyond decreases in the comparison states were attributable to changes in those two states' voter ID requirements. GAO found that turnout among eligible and registered voters declined more in Kansas and Tennessee than it declined in comparison states —by an estimated 1.9 to 2.2 percentage points more in Kansas and 2.2 to 3.2 percentage points more in Tennessee."

Note that the decline was among "eligible and registered voters" -- these weren't people trying to cheat. And who were they more specifically?

• among registrants, as of 2008, between the ages of 18 and 23 than among registrants between the ages of 44 and 53;

• among registrants who had been registered less than 1 year than among registrants who had been registered 20 years or more; and

• among African-American registrants than among White, Asian-American, and Hispanic registrants."

Younger voters, new voters and African American voters. Precisely those groups least likely to vote Republican.

Of course, GOP defenders of such laws will respond by saying that while it is deeply, deeply regrettable that certain groups may vote less because of the bureaucratic hurdles and expense put in their way, such steps are nonetheless necessary to stop the outbreak of vote fraud that threatened the sanctity of the electoral process.

Total poppycock.

That defense relies of course on the assumption that in-person vote fraud -- the only kind dissuaded by voter ID -- is a major problem or at least a minor problem or even a problem at all. GAO researchers went looking for evidence of such a problem, and they could find none. For example, in sifting through all the claims and counterclaims, they found five research efforts into vote fraud of sufficient rigor to be cited. The results of those five studies?

  1. "No significant indicators of voter impersonation fraud in the 2012 general election."
  2. "No suspicious anomalies found in voting patterns."
  3. "Five questionable votes cast in the November 2006 general election in Georgia." That's five out of 2.1 million votes cast. The GAO notes that when researchers tried to explore those five votes further, county registrars did not respond to requests for information. "If provided, information from the registrars may have clarified the status of the 5 questionable votes identified." In other words, even those five cases may be nothing.
  4. "Forty-eight individual voter defendants charged with violating federal election laws from 1996-2005. These cases may or may not include instances of in-person voter fraud." Again, that's 48 over a 10-year period over the entire country, and no evidence they included in-person fraud.
  5. "10 confirmed cases of in-person voter fraud among the over 2,000 election fraud cases identified" over the entire country from 2000 to 2011.

Based on the evidence, GAO researchers say they can't prove that in-person vote fraud exists, nor that it does not exist. In that regard, I guess, you could say the same about the Loch Ness monster, or about the ISIS terrorists said to be pouring across our border with Mexico. Proving a negative is difficult.

In short, over the past few years the party of small government and less bureaucracy has imposed a significant new bureaucratic hurdle on American citizens, and at considerable taxpayer expense, based on zero evidence of a problem, in hopes of discouraging participation in democratic government and thus gaining a small political advantage. To that degree, it has been a success.

And I admit that just in terms of strategy, you have to admire what they've pulled off.  GOP strategists knew that they do better when turnout is lower, particularly among certain groups, and they knew that voter ID would help them achieve that lower turnout, just as poll taxes and literacy tests had in earlier generations. So, lacking an argument that would justify such a step, they created an entirely spurious outcry about widespread voting-in-person fraud that to this day has never been documented.

And it worked. They succeeded in whipping up a hysteria among a base that just knew they couldn't be losing all these elections fairly and squarely, and in short order the existence of widespread fraud became something that every conservative had to believe in order to remain in good standing as a conservative, regardless of whether it had a factual basis.

And that's where we find ourselves today.