The cornerstone of our country, and one of the fundamental flash points for mobilization in the struggle for civil rights, is the right to vote. Fair access to the ballot for all eligible citizens of the United States was a major victory for civil rights leaders in the 1960’s and the Voting Rights Act provided many protections for people of color living in states with extreme discrimination, including the banning of any type of test or tax to vote and a mandatory consultation with the Department of Justice prior to moving any polling place for any election (this provision has since been thrown out by the Supreme Court).
After President Obama was elected, many states began enacting Voter ID laws, under the premise that voter fraud is a serious concern to the integrity of our elections. A 2012 study found that from 2000-2012, there were over 2,000 investigated cases of voter fraud. Of those, 25 percent were dropped with no charges and an undetermined number of others were for intimidation and bribery. Only ten cases of in-person voter fraud, what Voter ID laws are “designed to prevent” were successfully prosecuted. Even if all of those 2,000 cases turned out to be true instances of voter fraud, it wouldn’t even come close to influencing the popular vote result in the national election.
Which is why it is bizarre beyond words that Trump, who won the election, refuses to accept the results of the popular vote. Similar to the way he ran with Obama’s birth certificate lie, he now has a similarly racist crackpot theory about millions of people voting illegally in the past election. As often as our Electoral College has failed to represent the person our country chose by popular vote (it propelled three presidents to power before him), it was (unfortunately) the system that was in place for the 2016 election. He won.
So why stay onboard the Coo-Coo Train a second longer? A psychologist is probably better equipped to answer that question. More concerning is that this policy is beginning to see the light of day in many states and disproportionately affecting minority voters, who are less likely to possess these forms of identification. Nine states now require some form of ID.
Automatic voter registration is a strong policy resolution to this issue. It ensures that a registered voter’s identity is verified by one or more state government agencies and eliminates them from the rolls with verification that they’ve moved out of state. It enshrines the right to vote for all residents without going through an extra bureaucratic process. It is currently available in six states and many more have considered automatic voter registration. It buries any rational concerns about in-person voter fraud by having information on file that the voter should be able to verify at the poll.
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School is fighting for voting rights for all Americans. Given Trump’s disdain for democracy, we voting rights now more than ever.