In recent years, more and more states—fueled by exaggerated fears of fraudulent voting—have enacted laws requiring that a voter present photographic identification at the polls.
Although details of the laws vary, they all deter otherwise-eligible voters from going to the polls. Those hit hardest are the same groups traditionally marginalized in our election process: African Americans, Spanish speakers, low-income individuals, disabled voters, and youth.
The stated rationale for the measures—preventing voter fraud—is baseless. Photo ID laws prevent only one kind of voter fraud: impersonation at the polling place, in which an individual poses as a particular eligible voter and votes as that person. This sort of voter fraud is extremely rare.
The impact of this “solution” to the phantom problem of voter impersonation is not trifling; millions of dollars must be devoted to implementation, free IDs, and voter education. While photo ID exacts a steep financial cost, disenfranchising our most vulnerable citizens takes an incalculable toll on democracy.
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