President Donald Trump provided the country with a great service on Wednesday: He showed how utterly inane are the voting fraud hysterics. Asked about voting fraud he said two things: You need an ID to buy cereal (if it has alcohol in it?), a statement so dumb that George H.W. Bush should get another round of apologies for his supermarket scanner observation (which was incorrectly reported).
That wasn’t nearly as revealing as Trump’s other claim: “When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It’s really a disgrace what’s going on.” First, I can hardly wait for the SNL parody. Second, is he kidding? There is no evidence of widespread fraud, but his comical and entirely imaginary scenario (do YOU see people changing hats to vote repeatedly?) makes the point better than opponents of voter ID: The only reason to believe voter ID is essential is if you think people are impersonating other voters. (If they are, don’t they ever get caught when the real voter shows up? Why just drive around the block when they can drive to another polling place?)
We can have great fun with Trump’s remarks, and we can speculate as to whether he believes it or whether he thinks his cult-following does (or whether he can’t tell truth from Fox News). In any event, it’s serious when Republicans use the myth of voter fraud, the myth of impersonating-your-neighbor voter fraud, to devise barriers to voting. For a few years, voting rights advocates had a tough time showing there was a discriminatory effect from voter ID requirements. They subsequently sharpened their case preparation and successfully found plaintiffs who were impacted by the voting ID laws. Voter ID laws were struck down in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Then the hammer dropped. In 2017, Zoltan L. Hajnal, Nazita Lajevardi and Lindsay Nielson looked at the impact of voter ID laws. The results were compelling:
“First and most important, we have data from the nation’s most recent elections (2006-2014) and can single out and test the effect of the strict voter ID laws in multiple elections and multiple states. (We define states with “strict voter ID laws” as states where residents cannot vote without presenting valid identification during or after the voting process.)
“Second, we have validated voting data so we know whether each of our respondents actually voted. Third, we have a huge sample - over a third of a million Americans from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study - which means that we can analyze the participation of racial and ethnic minorities in all states both before and after strict ID laws are implemented . . .
“Hispanics are affected the most: Turnout is 7.1 percentage points lower in general elections and 5.3 points lower in primaries in strict ID states than it is in other states. Strict ID laws mean lower African American, Asian American and multiracial American turnout as well. White turnout is largely unaffected.”
The results are so stark that we’ve now seen one voter ID law after another fail.
So, on one side you have the cereal ID and voter impersonation nonsense - suggesting no rational basis for belief in widespread fraud - and, on the other, you have one federal ruling after another and a comprehensive voting study that has yet to be rebutted attesting to a significant discriminatory impact of voter ID laws. Believing in massive voter fraud is on a par with climate change denial - and sadly both show the Trumpized GOP’s willingness to depart from reality.