North Carolina seems poised to become the next state to pass a controversial voter photo ID law despite overwhelming opposition at a public hearing held in Raleigh this week.
Supporters say voter ID is needed because of the imminent threat voter fraud poses to our democracy, with scores of illegally cast ballots cancelling out legitimate votes. However, evidence of voter impersonation is exceptionally rare.
So where did the myth of rampant voter fraud come from? In North Carolina, coordinated voter fraud allegations go as far back as the 1890’s. During that time, African Americans and whites with common interests came together as part of the fusionist movement, and became a powerful voter block. As a result, African-American voter turnout was at an all-time high and many African-American leaders were elected to office. The Democrats, threatened by the power the fusionists wielded, successfully used trumped up charges of voter fraud to win the 1898 election. In power again, they continued tactics like violence, voter intimidation and new restrictive voting measures well into the 20th century, when the Civil Rights Movement took hold.
More recently, the fixation on voter fraud has come from the Republican Party. In a pre-2012 election blog post, Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at UC Irvine, writes about the American Center for Voting Rights, a mysterious non-profit which only existed between 2005 and 2007. The ACVR was founded with encouragement from Karl Rove and the Bush White House, and its mission was to push the idea of “rampant” voter fraud. Much of the data used by the ACVR to back its claims was later discredited, but by the time the organization vanished “many on the right were pushing the voter fraud line hard.” During this time, the Department of Justice also embarked on a mission to unveil vast impersonation fraud conspiracies, devoting unprecedented resources to the search, only to come up empty-handed.
Hasen also points out that, nationwide, absentee ballot fraud is actually much more prevalent than voter impersonation and yet, voter ID laws do not address absentee balloting at all. You can read more of Hasen’s ACVR research on this 2007 blog post. You can also follow him on the Election Law Blog.