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MILLER: Strict voter ID laws bring more harm than good

October 10, 2015

Miller
Election Day this November is on the minds of many. Voter turnout is traditionally lower in municipal election years, but it is a reminder that voting in Indiana is far from ideal.

Indiana voter turnout in the 2014 midterm was the lowest in the country with 27.8 percent. Many defend this with the explanation that our election was unexciting.

It is true that having the secretary of state at the top of the ticket is not as enticing as president or senator, but four other states had similar elections with significantly higher turnout. This included Washington and North Dakota, where turnout was better the national average with 41.2 percent and 43.8 percent, respectively. Indiana historically has been on the low side in voter participation.

Why?

The disputed 2000 presidential election (remember the hanging chads?) led many states to increase voting restrictions. Indiana was first, in 2006, to implement a strict voter identification law, requiring state-issued photo identification. Six states followed in the name of preventing voter fraud.

This might not appear problematic at first glance because we do want to keep voting lawful and secure.

However, upon further inspection, cases of fraudulent voting are virtually a myth. Voter identification laws do not affect most causes of described fraud, which includes coercion, bribery, fake registration forms or even ballot box stuffing. Voter identification laws have no effect in these cases.

A comprehensive analysis by Loyola University law professor Justin Levitt of every general, primary, special and municipal election from 2000 to 2014 (more than 1 billion votes), found only 31 incidents of fraud that could have been prevented by voter ID laws.

In the four states with the strictest laws, more than 3,000 voters in pre-2014 general elections alone were rejected for lack of identification. This does not include recordkeeping mistakes or voters without identification who could not register or did not show up. Some of these cases could have been fraudulent voters, but how many legitimate voters were turned away at the polls is unclear.

The most startling issue with this law is that it disproportionally affects low-income citizens. Low-income individuals are far less likely to have the driver’s license that the majority of people voters would use for their state-issued identification. Why have a license if you do not own a car?

Those without a license would have to obtain an ID just for voting, which can be time-consuming.

These laws also disproportionally affect minorities, as a larger percentage of African-American and Hispanic individuals are below the poverty level and without IDs. Other groups, such as the Amish or monastic orders, have been turned away at the polls because they did not possess identification.

There is also the issue of polling hours. In 2014, Indiana was one of three states where polls were only open until 6 p.m. How can all parents, students and working people be expected to make it to the polls before dinner time? It is a huge barrier to voting despite going unnoticed by some. Worse, no good reason can be cited for these hours, other than slightly quicker results.

It is clear that the strict voter identification law and restricted voting hours are more harmful than helpful. These laws are disenfranchising legitimate voters, particularly low-income individuals and minorities, while preventing what appears to be almost nonexistent voter fraud.

Indiana should be making the right to vote as convenient as possible, not suppressing the voices of its citizens.•

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Miller studies policy analysis at Indiana University and works as political director for the College Democrats of Indiana. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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