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25 Reasons Why Voter Identification Laws Are Unconstitutional (Courtesy of Wisconsin)

Image via People's World/Flickr

Did you ever wish you lived in a world where there were neutral arbiters of the facts? People who would take in the various arguments in favor of and against a particular policy, find out the facts about those arguments and make a decision that reflects reality as closely as possible? 

In theory, there are places where this is supposed to happen. Schools, newsrooms, courtrooms. Too often, though, partisanship, ideology and money get in the way of that truth-seeking process. 

Wisconsin provides with an example of a judge doing this process correctly and coming to the same conclusion that many of us around these parts have been arguing for quite a while—voter identification requirements are bad policy designed to solve problems that virtually don't exist while creating a host of new problems.

So here is basically every reason why voter ID laws are unconstitutional, discriminatory and at odds with the ideals that the United States is supposed to represent, courtesy of U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman:

1. Under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, a state is not allowed to pass laws that "unduly burden" the right to vote.  According to the Supreme Court, even very minor burdens have to be justified as "sufficiently weighty to justify the limitation." 

2. Adelman found precedent that a law could be invalidated if it placed an undue burden on subgroups of citizens, such as Latinos and African Americans, if the burdens placed on that population are not outweighed by the state's justification for the law that places those burdens on the voting subgroup.

3. The state of Wisconsin claimed that a voter identification law was necessary for "detecting and preventing in-person voter-impersonation fraud." Evidence presented to Judge Adelman showed that "virtually no voter impersonation" occurs in Wisconsin, finding literally no examples of this type of fraud in more than a decade of elections. Adelman said that "cases of potential voter-impersonation fraud occur so infrequently that no rational person familiar with the relevant facts could be concerned about them." Similar results have been found in other states.

4. The state said the law was necessary for "promoting public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process." No empirical evidence shows that voter ID laws like the one in Wisconsin actually increase confidence in the electoral process. Significant evidence, in fact, shows the opposite, that such laws decrease many voters confidence in the system, since the law is seen as a way to prevent certain types of voters from casting their ballot.

5. The state said the law was necessary for "detecting and deterring other types of voter fraud.” According to Adelman, ID proponents showed no evidence that an ID could prevent these other types of fraud, nor could she, in her words, "think of any way that it could." A felon who was voting illegally, for instance, could easily have an ID and no poll worker could tell from that ID that the person was an invalid voter.

6. The state said the law was necessary for "promoting orderly election administration and accurate record keeping." Adelson argued that the only way a voter ID could support this goal would be if it prevented voter-impersonation fraud, but since there was such a small amount of this fraud in the real world, the ID law couldn't be seen as providing any sufficient support to this goal.

7. The Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot burden voters based on the prevention of dangers that are very unlikely and only possible, but not proven.

8. The potential costs of in-person voter fraud are very high compared to the benefits. One vote is almost certainly not going to change the outcome of an election, and the penalties in a state like Wisconsin include a fine of up to $10,000 and up to three years of imprisonment. It wouldn't be rational to risk such penalties for something that isn't going to change the outcome of the election. Or, as Adelman said it, "a person would have to be insane to commit voter-impersonation fraud."

9. Committing voter impersonation fraud is very difficult, as Adelman noted: "To commit voter-impersonation fraud, a person would need to know the name of another person who is registered at a particular polling place, know the address of that person, know that the person has not yet voted and also know that no one at the polls will realize that the impersonator is not the individual being impersonated."

10. Voter ID laws disproportionately burden those who don't currently possess photo IDs and don't need them for any other purpose for voting. This group of citizens is overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately African American and Latino.

11. In Wisconsin, about 300,000 voters, or 9% of the registered voter population, lack qualifying ID. This is more than enough to change the outcome of many of the state's elections.

12. In states like Wisconsin, that offer same-day registration at the polls, obtaining an ID on election day would be difficult if not impossible.

13. A significant portion of those without qualifying IDs lack the documents, like a birth certificate, needed to get an ID. And they lack the ID needed to get a birth certificate.

14. Since they lack a physical address, homeless people are unable to receive ID cards in most of the country.

15. Many birth certificates and other documents have errors on them and cannot be used to obtain an ID without corrections. Corrections cost money.

16. A significant portion of voters lacking IDs were born in other states and are required to obtain needed documents from the other state, which costs extra money and involves contacting another agency in another state that the voter might not have lived in for many years.

17. Many people lacking IDs lack transportation or don't have access to public transportation that would get them to a DMV to obtain an ID.

18. As high as 64% of the population without IDs make less than $20,000 a year and the costs of transportation and obtaining documents shifts funds away from feeding their family or paying rent.

19. More than 80% of those lacking IDs have no education past high school, meaning that sorting out the many potential agencies and requirements to get an ID can be highly challenging.

20. In Wisconsin, of the 92 DMV service centers in the state, only one is open on weekends and only two are open past 5 p.m.  Eligible voters with jobs will have to take time off work and potentially lose income. 

21. Few DMV service centers in Wisconsin exist in inner city areas or rural areas, making poorer people have further to travel to obtain an ID, which is a particular problem since they can't drive (since they lack driver's licenses). Cabs rarely serve inner cities or rural areas.

22. Adelman determined that voter ID laws and the various obstacles that slow down the process of obtaining one will deter some voters from casting their ballots who otherwise would vote.

23. Wisconsin's voter ID law, similar to those in other states, would “absolutely” prevent more legitimate voters from casting their ballots that it would prevent fraudulent ones. Adelman concludes that this violates the Constitution, as the state's justification for preventing those legitimate voters from participating in the electoral process is not a valid interest compared to the actual cases of fraud that exist.

24. The Voting Rights Act says that the denial or abridgement of the right to vote for any citizens based on race or color, regardless of the existence of discriminatory intent, is illegal. Only the outcome matters, Adelman found, when it comes to invalidating such statutes.

25. The Voting Rights Act says that a law related to voting is invalid if it places a barrier to voting that is more likely to affect members of a minority group than the general population. As previously noted, voter ID laws have a disproportionate impact on Latinos and African Americans.

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