Once again, new voter ID laws are spreading across the country like measles at Disneyland. The most recent outbreak resulted in a rash of three nearly identical bills before the Nevada Legislature — SB169, AB253 and AB266. Each seeks to both require and severely restrict the number of acceptable voter IDs.
This dangerous epidemic feeds on misinformation and urban myth. Case in point: Neither the sponsors of the bills nor those testifying on their behalf offered any more than anecdotes and hearsay to justify these bills. They ask us to take their word for it, promising these bills will make some voters feel more comfortable and secure from voter fraud.
Maybe it’s time for the antidote to the anecdote. You know, a sort of fact-based booster shot. Kindly roll up your sleeve.
First, some facts. The respected Pew Charitable Trust examined 2,068 alleged cases of election fraud between 2000 and 2012 in 50 states and the District of Columbia. Not just anecdotal accounts, but instances with actual charges and investigations. They found only 11 involving voter impersonation. In 12 years. In the whole country.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. The risks of voter impersonation far outweigh the benefits; after all it’s a felony.
Granted, election fraud exists, but not voter impersonation. Some examples of real voter fraud, according to UNR’s Elliott Parker (Nevada Appeal, Feb. 8): A couple might own a second home and vote in both places. A woman completes an absentee ballot for an elderly relative with her own preferences. Boxes of ballots are mysteriously lost or found. Certain groups are given misinformation about voting times and places. Poor neighborhoods have fewer machines and increased wait times. The misguided measures before our legislature do nothing to protect us against these real threats.
Furthermore, Jon Sherman of the Fair Elections Legal Network explained just how extreme Nevada’s newly-proposed laws are. They would require acceptable IDs contain a photo and signature. Among unacceptable forms of ID: Veterans Affairs ID cards, student IDs, tribal identification, and concealed carry permits.
Because we’re accustomed to showing our ID to use a credit card, merely showing a sample ballot on Election Day may not feel secure, but consider the voting process. When a Carson City election worker scans your sample ballot’s bar code, all your voter registration information appears on a screen. Date of birth. Gender. Address. Party affiliation. Signature. You confirm your address and sign your name. If something doesn’t match, you can’t vote until the issue is resolved.
And what about cost? These new voter IDs will supposedly be offered “free of charge” at the DMV. Still there will be costs to the state. Former Attorney General Kate Marshall estimates costs between $5 million and $7 million. In addition, for citizens of a large, rural state who don’t drive, it can be costly and time-consuming to obtain certified copies of birth certificates or to spend an afternoon at the DMV. The individual would also incur costs for gas, travel, and time off work to obtain that “free” ID.
These proposed laws are unnecessary, costly, and likely unconstitutional. They disproportionately target vulnerable populations by confusing and thereby discouraging elderly, poor, minority, and disabled voters.
This is a case in which the proposed cure is far more harmful than the imagined disease. Unfortunately our response to these perceived threats can have real consequences. You see, it’s these new laws themselves that are the real threat to our voting rights.
Lorie Schaefer is retired, mostly. She urges you to visit the Nevada Legislature’s Opinion page at https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/Opinions/78th2015/A/ and register your opposition to SB 169, AB253 and AB266.