This report by the Brennan Center is making the rounds on liberal blogs today, with its sensational finding that new voting laws could disenfranchise five million eligible voters. According to the study:
• These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.
• The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012– 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
• Of the 12 likely battleground states, as assessed by an August Los Angeles Times analysis of Gallup polling, five have already cut back on voting rights (and may pass additional restrictive legislation), and two more are currently considering new restrictions.
Opponents of the voting laws are specifically concerned about new rules that require voters to show photo ID at the polls, pointing out that roughly 11 percent of potential voters don’t own valid identification cards. But the figures cited in the report are questionable. Brennan maintains that 11 percent of the voting age population don’t have photo ID, a statistic it concluded from a previous study. However, the “voting age population” includes non-citizens, illegal immigrants and felons who are barred from voting, according to the Census Bureau. Also, a hefty portion of the voting age population do not even vote – just 56 percent cast a ballot in 2008.
Other reports that looked at registered voters, as opposed to the general voting age population, conflict with Brennan’s findings. An American University study of registered voters in Indiana, Maryland, and Mississippi found that just 1.2 percent lacked government-issued photo IDs.
There’s definitely a debate to be had about whether voter ID laws will actually help prevent voting fraud. There are other ways to game the system that ID laws can’t thwart. And there are also questions about whether voting fraud is actually rampant enough to have an impact on elections, and whether having these laws in place is really necessary. Unfortunately, it’s hard to gather credible statistics on election fraud simply because IDs aren’t checked in the first place. But the widespread voter disenfranchisement Brennan’s report warns about is far from conclusive.