The Real Voter Fraud Scandal

Conservatives are launching campaigns to disenfranchise voters and tilt 2012 their way.

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In Ohio, where such a law is pending, roughly 940,000 citizens lack valid IDs, according to a study by a nonpartisan voters group. Or take Wisconsin: Less than half of Milwaukee County African-Americans and Hispanics have driver's licenses, according to a study from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the figures are worse for younger voters. Indeed, the Wisconsin law is especially pernicious, specifically not accepting student IDs, even from state institutions. Texas's voter ID law is even more blatant in who it's aimed at. State gun permits are acceptable, but student IDs and government employment cards are not.

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And these laws are a solution searching for a problem. Conservatives have long bemoaned the menace of voter impersonation, but the evidence for this threat is nonexistent. George W. Bush's Justice Department spent years ferreting out voter fraud and managed to prosecute not one voter for impersonating another. "Out of the 300 million votes cast [between 2002 and 2007] federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud," Rolling Stone reported. A 2007 study by the Brennan Center found the instances of voter fraud to be literally infinitesimal. "You're more likely to get killed by lightning than commit in-person voter fraud," says the Brennan Center's Michael Waldman. Which only makes sense: That thousands of people are casting illegal votes in others' names while evading determined detection (always managing to choose people who weren't going to vote anyway) doesn't pass the smell test.

Knock away the spurious reasons for the push to restrict voting and you're left with bare-knuckled partisanship. "There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today," former President Bill Clinton told a group of young political activists over the summer. He's right, and it must be fought at every level.

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