Ask Republican policymakers why they support voter-ID laws, and they'll occasionally admit it's because they're trying to rig elections and prevent voters they don't like from participating in their own democracy. But most of the time, they hide behind a talking point: "voter fraud."
At the surface, a reasonable person might find the argument credible if he or she weren't aware of the facts. To hear GOP officials tell it, there's a legitimate fear that someone might show up at a voter precinct under false pretenses, perhaps pretending to be someone they're not. If, however, voters are forced to obtain, purchase, and show a voter ID card for the first time in American history, the threat of fraud effectively disappears.
Whenever this comes up, someone like me rudely points out, "Voter fraud is imaginary," to which Republican respond, "No, this actually happens." Who's right? Well, it turns out, fraud does occur -- it's just extraordinarily infrequent.
A new nationwide analysis of more than 2,000 cases of alleged election fraud over the past dozen years shows that in-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which has prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tougher voter ID laws, was virtually nonexistent.
The analysis of 2,068 reported fraud cases by News21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, found 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation since 2000. With 146 million registered voters in the United States, those represent about one for every 15 million prospective voters.
The News21 report is based on a national public-records search in which reporters sent thousands of requests to elections officers in all 50 states, asking for every case of alleged fraudulent activity -- including registration fraud; absentee-ballot fraud; vote buying; false election counts; campaign fraud; the casting of ballots by ineligible voters, such as felons and non-citizens; double voting; and voter impersonation.
So, in the most comprehensive investigation that I've even heard of, there have been 10 cases of someone trying to cast an improper, in-person ballot -- exactly the problem Republican voter-ID laws hope to eliminate.
In other words, Republicans are imposing the most sweeping voting restrictions since Jim Crow laws to combat fraud that happens, on average, less than one vote nationwide per year. To put that in perspective, the odds of finding a legitimate case of in-person voter fraud are one in 15 million. The odds of you getting struck by lightning in any given year are one in 1 million.
GOP officials are fighting like crazy to impose a solution to a problem that does not exist because they're afraid Mitt Romney and other Republicans will lose a fair fight. It's a national scandal unlike anything we've seen in a long while.