President Donald Trump’s fervent, and mostly false, claims about voter fraud are nothing new.
However, as the country grapples with the pandemic and states are adopting alternative methods to in-person voting, such as mail-in ballots and ballot drop-off locations, Trump has amped up his baseless statements on the legitimacy of the upcoming election that is less than a month away.
Caleb Jackson, an attorney on the Campaign Legal Center’s voting rights team, called allegations of voter fraud disseminated by the president “one of the most problematic things we’ve seen out of the Trump administration.”
“It’s definitely a diversion tactic,” Jackson told Capital News Service.
“(Voter fraud) is not a huge problem in American politics but you’ve seen President Trump echo that…because that’s the easiest way for states to pass restrictive voting laws,” Jackson said. “It’s something that (people who agree with Trump) go into court and use…to try to argue for all of these hyper-restrictive voting laws.”
But Jackson and other election law experts are reassuring the public that voter fraud is nearly non-existent. In this story, CNS looks at one area of Trump’s false claims: voter identification laws.
At a rally in Lake Charles, Louisiana, last fall, Trump made perhaps his most infamous claim about voter ID laws.
“You know, if you want to go out and buy groceries, you need identification. If you want to do almost anything you need identification,” the president said. “The only thing you don’t need identification for is to vote, the most important single thing you’re doing — to vote.”
While this is simply not true, it was not the first time that he called for voter ID laws to be adopted by all states.
In a late-summer rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, last year, Trump attempted to encourage bipartisan backing of voter ID laws. This came just days after he argued before Congress that lawmakers should not move forward on election security plans without finalizing provisions to mandate voter identification.
“It’s also time for Democrats to join with us to protect the sacred integrity of our elections by supporting voter ID,” he said at the rally.
While not as universal as Trump would like, voter ID laws have been enacted in the majority of states.
Thirty-four states require some form of identification when voting in-person, 15 of which require a photo ID to be presented, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
All but three of the eight battleground states for the upcoming election — Minnesota, North Carolina and Pennsylvania — have voter ID laws for in-person voting. Florida, Georgia, Michigan and mandate photo IDs, while non-photo IDs are accepted in Arizona.
As states prepare for more mail-in voting than ever before given the pandemic, 11 states — Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Wisconsin — have voter ID laws in place for absentee and mail-in voting. Those laws require voters to submit a proof of identification accepted by the state with their absentee ballot applications or the ballots themselves.
However, experts who predicted that upwards of 70% of all votes will be by mail might have overstated the country’s shift to the alternative voting method, according to new NPR reporting.
A NPR/PBS NewsHour poll and Citizen Data poll, both conducted last month, revealed that only 35% of Americans plan to vote by mail, and half of all voters “specifically plan to vote in-person on Election Day,” due to fears of mail voting security and expected delays.
This would mean that in-person voting ID laws, which are in effect in more states than absentee and mail-in voter ID laws are, might be more of a barrier than previously expected.
Those who oppose voter ID laws argue that they discriminate against minority and lower-income citizens, while also discouraging voter participation.
The American Civil Liberties Union reported that 11% of Americans, roughly 21 million people, do not have government-issued identification.
Costs related to obtaining identification, which range from $75 to $175, and the traveling required to do get IDs, are major factors as to why many Americans do not have a valid ID, the ALCU finds.
The civil rights nonprofit organization also says that voter ID laws are especially discriminatory because voters of color disproportionately lack valid identification. Up to 25% of Black voters of voting age do not have a government-issued photo ID.
States also “exclude forms of ID in a discriminatory manner,” according to the ACLU. Certain states, such as Texas, accept concealed weapon permits for voting but not student IDs or public assistance cards.
“They want people to see (these laws and barriers) and get scared to vote and, you know, back away and say, ‘maybe I shouldn’t vote,’” said Jackson, who hopes that “it’s actually having the opposite effect.”
“I think, you know, minority voters are smarter than that,” Jackson said. “I think a lot of people see all of these barriers and say, ‘well, hey, if all these barriers (are) in place…then my vote definitely matters and I should go cast a vote.’”
The strictest protection against states from adopting discriminatory voter ID laws was struck down in 2013 by the Supreme Court.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act prohibited nine states that had a history of racial discrimination at the polls — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — from changing election laws without federal pre-approval.
Immediately following the court ruling, Texas announced that it would adopt the voter ID law that previously had been blocked.
Rob Richie, president of FairVote, a nonprofit organization that advocates for electoral reform, argues that voter ID laws may aid in easing the “gut visceral feeling that is sort of like, ‘gosh do they even know I’m me when I’m voting?’”
“It’s better to have people have confidence in the system,” Richie said, but he conceded that voter ID laws are inequitable.
“I would like to see a solution that addresses those who wish that there was a photo ID and addresses all the concerns about it being equitably…administered for those who oppose it,” he said. “We have to have kind of like a new commitment to the right to vote to make that work.”