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Campaigns and Elections in the United States

Voter Identification Laws in the United States

Supporters of voter identification laws, which require voters to show a photo ID card when voting, claim they are necessary to prevent voting fraud. Opponents of these ID laws claim they are unnecessary because of the extremely rare incidence of voter fraud and harmful because they unfairly impact the poor and members of minority groups.

A recurring issue of debate in the early 21st century is over the need for a voter identification law, legislation that requires voters to bring a form of personal identification, such as a driver's license or state-issued ID, with them when they vote. People who support voter ID laws claim the laws are necessary to require people to prove they are who they claim to be when voting, thus preventing voter fraud. Some of these supporters point to the fact that many registered voters do not cancel their registration in their former state when they move to a new one, creating the possibility that they could illegally vote in more than one state.

In truth, voter fraud is extremely rare. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice reviewed careful studies of voter fraud and found that only some 0.0003 percent to 0.0025 percent of votes were fraudulently cast by individuals falsely impersonating a voter. The report concluded that any American is more likely to be struck by lightning than to impersonate another voter. Other studies have found that most cases of alleged fraud are false. One of these studies focused on states where fraud was alleged to be prevalent and found not a single conviction for voter fraud over a five-year period. The state government of New Hampshire identified over 94,000 possible cases of duplicate registration among New Hampshire citizens who voted in 2016. After a year of review, it concluded that the vast majority of these cases were not actual cases of duplicate registration, requiring further investigation of only 51 cases.

Critics of voter ID laws claim the laws are unnecessary given the extreme rarity of actual voter fraud. In addition they suppress voter turnout and are discriminatory because poorer people and minority voters are less likely to have the required identification. Studies have shown that strict voter ID laws invariably disenfranchise—that is, take away the votes of—far more people than the fraudulent voters they catch. Several states have passed voter ID laws, but they have come under legal scrutiny because of allegations that they are a form of voter suppression.