September 22 is National Voter Registration Day, an effort to make sure everyone who would like to vote gets properly registered. At the same time, a theme of not-so-properly registered voters taking part in elections has emerged over the past ten years.
Many states have been enacting strict voter ID laws to combat voter fraud. But is voter fraud really that big of a problem? And do these laws actually do anything to curtail voter fraud?
One Person, One ID, One Vote
Voter ID laws require voters to produce some level of identification at the polls in order to cast a vote. These laws can range from strict, government-issued photo ID requirements to non-photo ID rules asking for only a bank statement or utility bill.
The voter ID laws have been around for quite some time and have been controversial their entire existence. Critics allege the laws are discriminatory against elderly, minority, and impoverished citizens, and there have been near-constant court battles over the last decade about the proper way to implement voter ID laws.
ID Early, ID Often
Is it all much ado about nothing? Both proponents and opponents of voter ID laws acknowledge that actual cases of in-person voter fraud are exceedingly rare. Opponents of the laws say the small number of voter fraud cases don't warrant what amounts to voter suppression. Proponents say that one case of voter fraud is too many.
But even giving current voter ID laws the benefit of the doubt, are they preserving the sanctity of the electoral process? That's less clear. A recent analysis of the last 14 years of elections found just 31 credible incidents of the kind of voter fraud that most voter ID laws are designed to prevent. Even if all of these incidents occurred in the same election (and they did not), how many elections are decided by 31 votes? Almost none.
Nobody wants voter fraud. But how much it occurs, and whether voter ID laws are the best way to combat it, are matters that remain very much up for debate.