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Voter ID Still Means Voter Suppression

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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More strong evidence, this time from Iowa, that voter ID has nothing to do with voter fraud.

Iowa Attorney General Matt Schultz, a voter ID superfan, has been conducting a huge investigation of voter fraud. He found some. But not much: a group of ex-felons who registered and voted when they shouldn't have been allowed to; a handful of people who voted in Iowa and another state in the same election; and a few noncitizens who voted. A grand total of 117 cases.

But none of these cases involved voter impersonation, which is the one type of voter fraud that voter ID can remedy.

Take, for example, voting in two states in one election. That's fraud, but it has nothing to do with voter impersonation. The problem isn't that someone is faking their identity at a polling place; it's that someone is registering at different addresses in different states and then legitimately (within each states' rules) voting in both, presumably by absentee ballot in at least one case. The other cases were similar: people who registered to vote even though their applications should have been rejected, not people who showed up at a polling place claiming to be someone else.

There is a natural trade-off between voting participation and policing fraud. Build higher walls against fraud, and some innocent voters will be denied access; make full participation the priority, and some crooks are going to find ways to take advantage. What's unusual about asking people to show a photo ID at the polling place is that polling-place voter impersonation doesn't seem to exist, and certainly not without the active collusion of election officials. Which means that if a barrier to voting is erected, it does nothing to prevent fraud.

We know that from academic research, but also because those with the greatest incentive and resources to find voter impersonation fraud have, time after time, come up empty. They are able to find other types of voter fraud. Just not the kind their supposed remedy would do anything about.

Which brings us back to what Scott Lemieux says.

In conclusion, let's list the reasons Republicans want to enact voter ID laws:

Vote suppression

That's it.

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Jonathan Bernstein at

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at