In a recent column in the Wall Street Journal, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach takes a victory lap trumpeting the passage of his voter ID law. He writes: "You can't cash a check, board a plane, or even buy full-strength Sudafed over the counter without [a photo ID]. That's why it's not unreasonable to require one in order to protect our most important privilege of citizenship." Voting, however, is not a privilege; it is a fundamental right guaranteed by more constitutional amendments than any other right we have. Cashing a check, getting on an airplane, and buying a nasal decongestant are not similarly enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
The putative targets of photo ID and proof-of-citizenship laws are alleged perpetrators of registration and in-person voter impersonation fraud. However, voting rights groups have obtained records from Kobach's own office that deflate his claims that "[v]oter fraud is a well-documented reality in American elections." The disclosed report, which covers Kansas elections from 1997 to 2011, shows merely 221 incidents for 14 years of elections, and 200 of these could not have been prevented by the new proof-of-citizenship and photo ID requirements. These include more than 98 fraudulent or erroneous absentee ballot applications, 18 instances of attempted or completed double-voting in different precincts or jurisdictions, 17 instances of felons voting, 16 instances of absentee ballot fraud, as well as reports of electioneering and voter intimidation. Photo ID and proof-of-citizenship laws, which at their best can only confirm identity at the polls and block ineligible noncitizens from registering, simply do not prevent any of the above conduct.
As for actual instances of voter fraud that could have been prevented with voter ID laws, the report lists only 16 instances of noncitizen registration (five of these individuals illegally voted) and zero instances of in-person voter impersonation fraud. Legal action was pursued in a measly eight cases over 14 years. Kobach is using a nuclear weapon to kill a fly (and telling you the fly is the size of Houston).
In his op-ed, Kobach goes on to assert that the 2010 Democratic primary for the 40th District of the Missouri House of Representatives was stolen by noncitizen Somalis casting illegal votes. But on October 13, 2010, the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's finding that no fraud occurred on Election Day.
Continuing to stoke the flames of xenophobia, Kobach claims his office has identified 67 unlawfully registered aliens, and that the final tally will "likely be in the hundreds." He does not claim any of those noncitizens actually voted, which suggests their registration was inadvertent.
Kobach also says that in Colorado, "the Secretary of State's office recently identified 11,805 aliens illegally registered to vote in the state, of whom 4,947 cast a ballot in the 2010 elections." This is false. In fact, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler's report was filled with seriously flawed assumptions and rank speculation, and conceded its results were "inconclusive." Gessler's analysis yielded only the tepid "conclusion" that it was "nearly certain that 106 individuals are improperly registered to vote. And potentially many of the remaining 11,805 individuals are also improperly registered to vote." No evidence of voter fraud was produced.
Kobach is also ill-informed when he argues the number of eligible voters who lack photo ID is minimal, and that photo ID laws will not depress registration and turnout among minorities. In fact, the negative impact of photo ID laws on American voters is both undeniable and substantial. In addition to a 2006 Brennan Center survey, a study presented to the American Political Science Association and exit polls conducted in California, New Mexico, and Washington confirm that a significant percentage of registered voters lack access to driver's licenses and other forms of qualifying ID. A recent study of currently registered voters has demonstrated a racial disparity exists in both possession of up-to-date driver's licenses or state ID cards and possession of photo ID that meets Indiana's photo ID law's requirements.
Kobach needs to check his facts. The newly released data demonstrates that he is deliberately misrepresenting his office's own records to suit his ends. But in order to have accurate and fair elections, it is important to have accurate and fair discussions about elections.