Are you racist? Let's look at your position on voter ID
© Greg Nash

Are you racist?

One way to find out is to ask yourself what you think about the various voter identification laws that are now in effect in 33 states.

It's not that anyone who supports such laws is a racist. It's not quite that simple. But there is a relationship.

Let me explain.

Voter ID laws are commonly justified as a way to combat voter fraud. As such, we need to ask three questions.

As it turns out, we have good answers to all of these questions.

First, voter fraud is not an issue. Why? Because it really doesn't exist. Many researchers and investigators have looked into this, and the evidence is clear.

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But please, don't just trust me; Google "voter fraud" and have a look for yourself. You'll find something similar to what a study conducted by Loyola Law School found: Over the course of 1 billion votes cast between 2000 and 2014, there were just 31 cases of voter fraud.

That's 1 billion, as in one and nine zeros. If you're not good with fractions, another study found the slightly higher rate of 0.00000132 percent.

There are other studies — again, look them up yourself — but they tell the same story: There just isn't any voter fraud out there.

In fact, not one state that has either passed or even considered passing a voter ID law has ever documented an actual problem with voter fraud.

The good news is that we can now skip our second question. After all, voter ID laws can't have an effect on something that doesn't exist.

They can, however, have other effects. And here's the key point: Not everyone in the U.S. has an up-to-date, government-issued ID. Many Americans, after all, can't afford to own a car and don't have driver's licenses, and many don't travel out of the country with passports.

On this point, the research is equally clear: Because Hispanics, blacks and Asian-Americans, have, on average, less wealth than white voters, they are less likely to have IDs. As a result, voter ID laws cause the gap between white voter turnout and non-white voter turnout to grow significantly.

One study shows that strict voter identification laws can double or triple existing racial voting gaps.

Again, you can look this up yourself. (Do it!)

So let's review. Voter ID laws do not make voting less fraudulent (because there is no fraud to prevent), but they do violate one of our most cherished principles of democracy — the idea that participation should be open to all citizens, irrespective of race. Given this picture, it's hard to see how voter ID laws could possibly be justified.

Why, then, do people support them? 

There are two possibilities.

First, people could actually wish to suppress non-white voting.

There isn't much to say here, except that people are entitled to their racist views, and even to push for legislation that promotes those views. Those in support of racial equality can hope that our judicial process will void such racially motivated legislation (and, we can take heart, a number of courts have done so already).

Of course, some Republican partisans might wish to suppress non-white voting because it leans Democratic. Their anti-democratic motivation may not technically be racist, but as the effect of their efforts clearly is, such hairsplitting doesn't do much to redeem them.

This brings us to the second possible explanation for why people support voter ID laws: They are mistaken about the facts. Either they think voter fraud is a problem, or they don't see the ways strict voter ID laws prevent blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans from voting — or both.

And so we return to our opening question, with a new twist: If you support voter ID laws, are you a racist or just misinformed? If you were in the latter camp, well, having read this far (and perhaps having done your Google research), you no longer are. 

If you're still not convinced, though, then perhaps your answer to my opening question is not what you thought it was.

Lindsay is an associate professor of political science and philosophy at Georgia State University and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network.


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