The Real Threat to Democracy

By Loren McArthur, Deputy Director, Civic Engagement, NCLR

Photo: Vox Efx, Creative Commons
Photo: Vox Efx, Creative Commons

At a House of Representatives hearing this week on President Obama’s administrative relief programs for undocumented immigrants, Republican witnesses trotted out one of their favorite canards—that voter fraud poses a threat to the integrity of our elections. Specifically, they asserted that the president’s executive action, which will allow millions of immigrants to obtain Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses, increases the risk that noncitizens will register and vote in U.S. elections.

To be clear, there are already millions of legal permanent residents and legally authorized immigrants living in the U.S. with Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses. Yet according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, numerous investigations into the alleged voting of noncitizens have shown that instances of unintentional registration are extremely isolated and rare.

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Photo: Wikipedia
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Photo: Wikipedia

Consider one of the witnesses at this week’s hearing: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, best known for his work on anti-immigrant laws such as Arizona SB 1070 and an outspoken proponent of voter ID laws. Kobach’s own office has identified just 18 cases of alleged voter fraud from the 2010 and 2012 Kansas elections—out of 1.7 million registered voters. Even if these allegations all proved true (and they do not all involve noncitizens), the incidence of voter fraud in Kobach’s home state would be negligible at 0.001 percent.

While voter fraud itself is largely imaginary, the purported solutions to this nonproblem pose an all-too-real threat to the integrity of our elections. For example, voter ID laws, which now exist in 31 states, impose disproportionate burdens on Latino voters, who are less likely than Whites to have a photo ID. An election eve poll of registered Latino voters showed that 14percent of Hispanics who did not vote in the 2014 elections lacked an unexpired form of identification—evidence of the chilling effect that voter ID laws can have on Latino participation. Worse, efforts to purge voter rolls of noncitizens are notoriously flawed, with the potential to disenfranchise large numbers of eligible voters.

The real threat to democracy is not voter fraud. It is, rather, those who would suppress the votes of millions of U.S. citizens in the name of “preventing” it.

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