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With the next presidential election eighteen months away, many states, especially those in Republican hands, are making major changes to voting laws. The changes include requiring photo ID’s for photos, reducing the number of early voting days, and expanding registration rules. The intent, they say, is to save money and reduce fraud,but some Democrats are cry foul. They claim the changes are intended to discourage voter turnout and to disproportionately shrink voting rates among African Americans, Latinos and young adults, groups critical to President Obama’s victory in 2008. Please join us.
- E.J. Dionne Jr. Senior fellow, The Brookings Institution, columnist, Washington Post and author of "Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right" and of "Stand Up Fight Back."
- Wendy Weiser Director, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice
- Kris Kobach Secretary of State, Kansas
- Hans Von Spakovsky Senior legal fellow, Heritage Foundation
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A number of states, almost all controlled by Republicans, are seeking to tighten requirements for voting. They say the efforts reduce risk of fraud. But others, especially Democrats, see the move as an effort to reduce turnout. Joining me to talk about new state voting rules and the implications for the 2012 election: E.J. Dionne of the Brookings Institution and a columnist at The Washington Post, Hans von Spakovsky of The Heritage Foundation.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us from a studio at NPR New York, Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice. And by phone, from Topeka, Kan., Kris Kobach, secretary of state for Kansas. I look forward to hearing your comments throughout the hour, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. E.J. DIONNEGood morning, Diane.
MR. HANS VON SPAKOVSKYGood morning.
REHMWendy, I wonder if I can start with you. Give us a sense of some of the changes being made at state levels to voting rules.
MS. WENDY WEISERCertainly. There has been a significant movement to cut back on voting rights across the country. We are seeing a range of laws passing, requiring strict photo identification in order to vote, proof of citizenship requirements, cutting back on early voting, laws that make it a lot harder to -- for new voters to register or for existing voters who move to keep their registrations current and a range of other technical barriers to voting. It's been a real broad-based movement.
REHMNow, help me to understand. Are all of these changes being made in Republican-controlled states?
WEISERThere has, in fact, been a partisan divide on a lot of these issues. It has not been exclusively partisan, but, for the most part, it has been Republican-controlled states that have passed these laws.
REHMAnd, Kris Kobach, tell us about the voting law you drafted in Kansas.
SECRETARY KRIS KOBACHWell, in Kansas, we recently enacted what we call the Secure and Fair Elections Act or SAFE Act. And as you mentioned, it includes some of those elements that you mentioned, a requirement that all voters present photo I.D. when they vote in person. Second, it includes a requirement that absentee voters or vote-by-mail voters present a full driver's license number or a photocopy of an I.D. with their ballot and have their signatures verified and, thirdly, a proof of citizenship requirement for newly registered voters.
SECRETARY KRIS KOBACHI would say, looking at the landscape of election all across the country, we have the toughest, most secure system in Kansas. And other states have done one or two of those three items. But I think it's a good thing to secure our votes because, you know, whenever someone who is not qualified to vote or someone who's committing voter fraud votes, that cancels out someone else's ballot.
SECRETARY KRIS KOBACHAnd I'd mention one final thing, and that is, in our legislature, although we do have Republican majorities in Kansas -- and, certainly, the vast majority of Republicans voted for these measures -- the vast majority of Democrats also voted for them in the House of Representatives in Kansas. Two-thirds of the Democrats voted in favor of this bill. And in the Senate, three-fourths of the Democrats voted in favor.
SECRETARY KRIS KOBACHSo, I think, it is unfair to characterize these laws as something that benefits one party or the other. You know, they benefit all candidates, all voters equally. Everyone wants to know at the end of the day that, when an office is won by a candidate, that office was won fairly. And that's really important for the integrity of our republic to know that we, the people, are -- our voices are accurately being counted or heard at the polling place.
REHMGive me a sense of what fraud cases there have been in Kansas.
KOBACHYeah, did a study of all reported cases of fraud since 1997. We found 221 cases. Absentee ballot fraud was, far and away, the most common form of fraud. And I think people on all sides of this issue would probably agree that the opportunity for mischief is greatest with mail-in ballots or absentee ballots. That's to say you request somebody else's absentee ballot and intercept it at the mailbox.
KOBACHOr you have it sent to a different address, or you just try to drive up turnout in a particular party by falsely requesting absentee ballots. We also found impersonation of another voter. We found double voting. Double voting is fairly common, either between two states or in two different counties within the same state. That is actually one form of fraud that's fairly easy to detect after the fact.
KOBACHMost forms of fraud, you do not have an easy way of detecting after the fact.
REHMHelp me to understand how many people in Kansas do not have an I.D..
KOBACHWell, this was a big question. And, of course, it's one of the central points made by opponents of photo I.D. laws. They will say, what if people are running around without photo I.D.s? Well, in Kansas, we got the exact numbers for the legislature. We found out that, according to the 2010 census, there are, rounded off, roughly 2,126,000 Kansans of voting age.
KOBACHAnd from the Department of Motor Vehicles, which issues our driver's licenses and our non-driver I.D. cards, there are 2,156,000 of those in circulation and valid right now. So that means there are actually more I.D.s of people of voting age -- that's I.D.s in the hands of people 18 or older -- than there are, actually, voting-age Kansans.
KOBACHSo that would suggest or indicate pretty strongly that the -- it is a myth, at least in Kansas, that, you know, a large percentage or any significant percentage of people are running around without photo I.D.s. And I have yet to meet somebody who does not have a photo I.D. in Kansas. And just to be extra fair though, we also said, if you don't have one, the state will issue a free one for you.
KOBACHAnd also, if you're over the age of 65, you can use an expired photo I.D. to vote in the state as long as you wish.
REHMKris Kobach, he is secretary of state for Kansas. Turning to you, E.J. Dionne, you wrote in a column yesterday that we are in a midst of an attack on the right to vote. How do you see it?
DIONNEWell, first of all, thank you for having this discussion, Diane. This is an issue that's largely passed under the national radar. And we need a big discussion of this 'cause Election Day 2012 could be a real mess because of some of these laws, as legitimate voters are denied access to the ballot. I want to put this in context and then go back to a couple of things Secretary Kobach said. What is this about?
DIONNEThroughout our history as a democracy, we've expanded access to the ballot. We've included groups that were previously excluded from our democracy. We had property requirements. We didn't let African-Americans vote for a long time. We passed the Civil War amendments, which gave them the right to vote, yet people push back against their right to vote with fake literacy laws, poll taxes and the like.
DIONNEWe gave women the right to vote. So our history is an honorable one of expanding access to the ballot box. And these measures are designed to restrict access to the ballot box. Let me give you an example. I woke up this morning in my suburb in Maryland where I live. I need a driver's license to do my job. So I routinely go to the DMV. I have to do it, so none of these laws would affect me as a well-off suburbanite.
DIONNEThink about the 25-year-old inner-city person who doesn't own a car, doesn't drive to work. You are putting a burden on them to get a kind of I.D. that someone like me gets routinely. That, to me, looks an awful lot like a poll tax, even if the Supreme Court in a recent case involving Indiana didn't see it that way. I'm hoping that case is re-litigated. But let's go to a couple of Secretary Kobach's points -- and, please, correct me, Mr. Secretary, if I'm wrong.
DIONNEYou mentioned those 20 -- 221 alleged incidents of voter fraud in Kansas. In a recent interview with NPR, you were unable to identify a single conviction or arrest involving any of these cases. So these are allegations, and we are risking the right to vote for thousands of people on the basis of, I think, pretty wild charges that our election system is fraudulent. One other...
REHMSecretary Kobach, do you want to respond?
KOBACHYeah, actually, what was just said was incorrect. I don't know if -- what the substance of the interview he was recalling. But of those 221 cases, only a fraction have been investigated, but of the ones that haven't investigated, several have been prosecuted. There have been six prosecutions. And of those -- not all of them are concluded, but all the ones that have concluded have lead to a conviction.
KOBACHMost of the six are for double voting. And so, yes, they have been followed up after. And the reason we only have six right now is, again, due to prosecutorial resources. The way Kansas law works, the only person who can go after a voting fraud crime is the county attorney. And lots of county attorneys are, you know, overstressed and strapped with other cases on their dockets.
KOBACHSo -- but, anyway, we see that these cases are indeed proving to be cases -- actual cases of voter fraud when proven in court.
DIONNECould I say that's a classic case of the bait-and-switch we're talking about here? First of all, I was quoting what he said in NPR interview, okay? Six out of 221. He didn't say -- the secretary didn't say that at the beginning. He threw out this number, 221. Now, we know from him -- thank you, sir -- that that's reduced to six.
DIONNEWe are not talking --
KOBACH(unintelligible) cases are reported cases that never got investigated. That doesn't mean --
DIONNEBut you're citing them to justify a sweeping law when you can point to only six prosecuted cases of voter fraud. And I think that's the real debate here.
KOBACH(unintelligible) have to be disenfranchised for you to say it's a problem. Is one not enough? Would you feel that way if it was your vote that was cancelled out by a fraudulent voter in an election?
DIONNEI think that six cases of so-called vote fraud -- or let's say six convicted cases of vote fraud are not enough to put in requirements that will potentially exclude -- and there are a lot of studies. I think the example I cited at the beginning, there are a lot of studies that show that low-income people, young people, African-Americans and Latinos are less likely to have I.D.s. This is a problem that doesn't exist and a solution that is designed to do something else other than solve vote fraud.
REHMI want to bring in Hans Von Spakovsky. Hans, do the government I.D. voting requirements mean that we're heading toward some kind of national I.D.?
SPAKOVSKYProbably not. But I want to address something that has just been said. And that is it is just a myth that has been disproven in the polling booth and in the courts that voter I.D. requirements will depress the turnout of voters, and particularly that it will depress the turnout of the poorer blacks and others. And I can give you specific examples of that such as the fact that...
SPAKOVSKYWe come back.
REHM...we come back. We've got to take a short break here. Your calls, your comments, more conversation when we return.
REHMAnd just before the break, as we were talking about changing voter I.D. regulations, Hans Von Spakovsky, you were saying that identifying with photo at the polling booth does not diminish the number of voters.
SPAKOVSKYRight. And we know that because, in fact, the two strictest voter I.D. laws in the country have been in place now for several elections in Indiana and Georgia. And, in fact, if you look at turnout, for example, in the 2008 election in Georgia, turnout went up 6.1 percentage points of Democratic voters in the state. And, of course, African-Americans -- Georgia got a lot of -- a large population of them -- vote predominantly Democratic.
SPAKOVSKYThe Census Bureau itself said that 65 percent of the voting age population of blacks who voted in the 2008 election, 55 percent voted in 2004 when there was no voter I.D. law in effect. So, in other words, once the voter I.D. law in effect, in fact, black turnout went up dramatically. And for anyone who wants to say, oh, well, that's because Barack Obama was in the election, sorry.
SPAKOVSKYYou can compare their turnout increase to Mississippi, also a large African-American population, no voter I.D.. And the increase in turnout from the '04 election, there was only about a third of that. Same thing happened in the congressional election. Georgia is one of the few states that actually keeps track of voters by race, and, in 2010, over 50 percent of the registered blacks who voted in 2004, when there was no voter I.D. law in effect, only 43 percent registered blacks voted. Same thing happened in Indiana.
SPAKOVSKYI can give you the figures. But, in fact, Indiana, after the voter I.D. law went into effect in the '08 election, had the highest turnout increase in the country of Democrats voting in the election. Lawsuits were filed in both Indiana and Georgia, federal lawsuits claiming these laws were discriminatory. The laws were eventually thrown out and dismissed because -- and the judges noted this in their decisions -- they -- the judges were surprised because the plaintiffs had made these claims.
SPAKOVSKYHundreds of thousands of Georgians who don't have voter I.D. won't be able to vote. They could not produce a single witness in either case. Even the NAACP, which was a plaintiff in Georgia, couldn't produce a single member who didn't have a photo I.D. and couldn't vote. So the turnout from -- in the polling place and the court cases shows that this claim is just not true.
REHMAll right. Let me turn to you, Wendy Weiser. What analysis has the Brennan Center done on this? What percentage of voters, for example, do not have I.D.s?
WEISERYeah, certainly, we have done -- we have studied this extensively. And I should add that, really, no one disagrees that voters should have to show that they are who they say they are.
WEISERAnd the real problem is when states say that the only way you can show that is with documents that many people do not have. I mean, there are reasonable I.D. requirements that are in place in many states across the country that actually provide alternatives for voters who don't have the kinds of I.D. that are broadly required, like a driver's license, to still have an opportunity to vote.
WEISERAnd we've done several national studies, and we've also collected all of the political science research on this. And we have found that 11 percent of Americans do not have a current photo I.D.. That is, again, 11 percent. The number is much higher for certain demographic groups. Like, for African-Americans, it's closer to 25 percent. For older Americans, again, it's a higher percentage -- students as well.
WEISERSo that is the national picture. We respectfully disagree that the number of people on a driver's license database is a proxy for how many eligible citizens have the required I.D.. The driver's license databases are not cleaned up in the way the voter rules are. They include non-citizens. They include people under 18, and they really don't have the same kind of protocols and requirements that the voter roles do have.
WEISERI do want to address, also, the comment that it's a myth that voter I.D. depresses turnout. In fact, the only studies that have been done on this have -- incredible studies have actually found that there is a negative turnout effect from voter I.D. laws. You cannot look at one election, at the turnout, in a particular state and determine the effect of one of many variables just by that.
WEISERAnd, you know, Georgia, for example, the turnout did go up in Georgia, but not as much as some other states -- perhaps less than Mississippi, but not as much as North Carolina, for example. So, really, that doesn't prove anything. You need a much more sophisticated analysis. And the political scientists who've done that analysis have concluded that there is a turnout effect.
SPAKOVSKYThat is just not true.
REHMHold on just a minute. Wendy, tell me how hard it is to get a photo I.D..
WEISERWell, for most Americans, it's not that difficult. But for those people who don't have the underlying documents to get photo I.D., it might be very difficult. I mean, for those who drive and have to go through that process anyways, you know, that's about -- you know, 80 to 90 percent of Americans will have a driver's license. For other people, they need to collect a driver -- a birth certificate, which they may or may not have.
WEISERIf they do not have it, it will cost money. They might have to go out of state. They might have to travel far. In some states like Wisconsin, for example, that just passed a new photo I.D. requirement. More than half the counties don't have an I.D. issuing office, or at least one that's open for more than a couple of hours a month. That will be a significant burden for people who aren't currently driving.
WEISERSo there are certainly a lot of burdens that people have to go through that would be especially difficult, for example, for older voters or disabled voters to do.
REHMAll right. And, Hans, you say...
SPAKOVSKYI just have to disagree. You know, this idea that there are all these academic studies saying depresses turnout -- that is simply untrue. Most of the studies that have been done -- in fact, all the ones I have seen -- show the exact opposite. University of Delaware and Nebraska did a study of all 50 states, comparing turnout in states with I.D. requirements against those that didn't. Their conclusion was -- and I'll give you a quote -- "concerns about voter I.D. law affecting turnout are much ado about nothing."
SPAKOVSKYThey found no effects across all socio and racial lines. Heritage Foundation, where I work, did a study also, looking at turnout, all 50 states, same kind of comparison. The statistical analysis showed it did not affect turnout. Look, that's one of the reasons that if you look at the polling on this -- Rasmussen has a poll -- it shows that the overwhelming majority of Americans -- and, again, this goes across party lines, across racial lines, across age lines -- they support having a voter I.D. requirement in the polling place.
DIONNEFirst of all, I find -- I would like -- one of the problems for listeners here is that people are going to be throwing around this study or that. And the listeners will have no way of knowing how rigorous a particular study was because, unfortunately, this is an area where people have a deep partisan interest. Let me just quote a very honest Republican official, Royal Masset. I hope I pronounced his name right.
DIONNEHe was a former political director for the Republican Party in Texas, and he told the Houston Chronicle this. I'm quoting the Chronicle story. "Among Republicans, it is an article of religious faith that voter fraud is causing us to lose elections," he said. He doesn't agree with that, but he does believe that requiring photo I.D. could cause enough of a drop-off in legitimate Democratic voting to add 3 percent to the Republican vote.
DIONNEThen I ask people to consult their common sense. Is it not the case that people who live in rural areas and live in suburbs, who depend on their cars, who actually have to go get a driver's license to live their lives, are not burdened in the least by any of these requirements? The only people burdened by these requirements are people who live in cities who don't drive cars.
DIONNEMany of the alternative I.D.s that are offered require an immense amount of work that I don't have to go through. Because I get my I.D. from the DMV, I'm fine. But if I don't drive a car, then suddenly I have to go through an extra process in order to cast my ballot. And that just isn't fair. Most of the alternative I.D.s offered in these laws require that extra effort that people who live in places like I do don't have to make. That is just not fair.
REHMAll right. There's another element I want to ask you about, and that's early voting days. Those early voting days were greatly expanded during the last decade. Now, they're being reduced. Why would that be, Hans? What's the reasoning?
SPAKOVSKYWell, I don't know what the specific reasoning are for the states. But I'll tell you the two main points to keep in mind about that. First of all, early voting does not increase turnout. In fact, Curtis Gans, who's at American University, which, you know, hosts WAMU, has done a number of studies about this. And the idea that most people would have that somehow it increases turnout, he found, is not true.
SPAKOVSKYAnd, in fact, he's written studies concluding that he thinks it might actually hurt turnout of voters. That seems odd, but that was his conclusion. Second thing is problem with early voting, from a campaign standpoint, is it makes campaigns, political campaigns, much more expensive.
SPAKOVSKYAnd, in fact, it means that rather than just doing get-out-the-vote in the last couple of days before an election, a candidate has to do, you know, a strong get-out-the-vote activities for the extensive period that early voting is going on. And that makes campaigns much more expensive.
REHMLet me understand what difference early voting has made in recent elections, E.J.
DIONNEWell, first of all, you had -- I wish I had them in front of me. In Florida, for example, and we -- I could do exactly what Hans did earlier. And if you look at particular states in 2008, early voting clearly had an enormous impact in bringing new voters to the polls. And let's look at who does early voting help most. It helps people who have less control over their schedules. It helps shift workers.
DIONNEIt helps people in the service industry. In other words, it helps less fortunate people to have another shot at the ballot box. If you work in a factory or in a McDonald's or in a Wal-Mart, you don't control your schedule the way you do if you are a professional or if you own a company when you can...
REHMSo what you're saying is that people who have fewer resources, less flexibility have less opportunity to vote?
DIONNEExactly. You know, that early voting makes it easier for people to exercise a right that they have. I am sympathetic to what they do in Italy, for example, where they have elections over two -- a day-and-a-half. They have them on Sundays when most people are off, but then they also allow voting on Monday morning for people to have access. We have this fixed election on Tuesdays, the first Tuesday after the first Monday, which is an awkward time, and our remedy to that in many states, which has worked.
DIONNEThere's no one saying that early voting has increased fraud, or at least I don't know of any study that shows that. All we've done is make it easier for people to exercise their democratic rights and keep their jobs.
REHMSo why are we seeing this move toward limiting the amount of time people can vote, Wendy?
WEISERYou know, it's hard to speak to the motives behind these laws. But I will say that the places where we've seen significant cutbacks on early voting have been states with significant African-American populations where those populations participated extensively in early voting in recent elections. Again, we do not know, I agree, what the effect of early voting is on overall turnout. It is a relatively new phenomenon.
WEISERBut it certainly has, in addition to a benefit for voters who have difficult schedules or multiple obligations, it also helps with election administration. It helps spread out the burden of Election Day, so that you don't see really, really long lines on Election Day that could turn away and make it very difficult for people who don't have a lot of time to wait in line to vote.
REHMWendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Kris Kobach, I gather that absentee ballots are now being limited as well. I'm not sure about Kansas.
KOBACHWell, as I mentioned, the Kansas SAFE Act does include a provision on absentee ballots. They're not being limited, but rather, they're being secured. Absentee ballots, which is one form of early voting -- there's early in-person voting, and then there's early absentee voting. And early absentee voting or voting by mail is much more common because it takes a lot of money and infrastructure to have offices open to accept, you know, voting -- voters walking in.
KOBACHBut in Kansas, we have required signature verification so that when the application for the absentee ballot comes in, the person's signature is verified against the PDF of that signature in the state's database. And then we also require that you have a full driver's license or non-driver I.D. number or a photocopy of an I.D.. Let me just mention one point, though, as Wendy said, that, you know, maybe there's some motivation here to depress minority turnout.
KOBACHI find it interesting that whenever we get to any of these election changes, the left always insists that, oh, there's some insidious horrible motivation here. This is actually one of those issues where there are legitimate, nonpartisan reasons on both sides of this coin. And I would say, just at the outset, Kansas has not restricted early voting. We have about 20 days of early voting. And I, frankly, think that early voting is great.
KOBACHBut there are good arguments to be made on both sides, and one of them is that it is expensive for candidates. If you have early voting, the candidate with more money has a huge advantage because that candidate can do these very expensive mail drives when you send out an application for the ballot from the candidate's campaign. The other problem that people on both sides of the partisan aisle can see is that -- suppose an event happens late in an election.
KOBACHOne week before the election, there's a big revelation about a candidate, or something changes and one candidate gives an answer in interview that changes people's impression of him, if a huge number of ballots have been cast before that point, then, in effect, a large part of the electorate was voting under different pretenses than the electorate that voted on Election Day. So, you know, I think it's unfair to ascribe some insidious motivation in those states where early voting has been restricted.
REHMAll right. E.J.
DIONNECould I just say that that argument on early voting also applies to a politician saying something terrible two days after Election Day, so that you can draw the line anywhere you want? And I just appreciate the fact that the secretary supports early voting. That is -- that's at least one question on which we broadly agree. The issue of motivation here, I -- maybe Wendy knows of one.
DIONNEI don't know of a single state where Democrats have control of at least part of the process, such as the governorship or one house of legislature, where these restrictive measures are going through. Correct me if I'm wrong, Wendy. These laws have been vetoed by Democratic governors in Missouri and in Montana. And the problem with this whole discussion is that there is an overlap between the Democrats' partisan concerns.
DIONNEYes. Democrats have an interest in a high turnout of minority voters and young voters because they are more Democratic. But there is also a civil rights concern here, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican. The -- again, the evidence is that this is much -- makes it much harder if you restrict early voting or if you require I.D. at the polls or slow down the lines on Election Day.
DIONNEThe evidence is that this depresses minority turnout more than others. And Hans is going to cite, you know, 2008, but I think Wendy has it exactly right, that 2008 was an extraordinary election. And, to be honest, what I am hoping is that these efforts to restrict access to the ballot lead to a great civic movement akin to the voting rights movement back in the '60s, where people say, all right, we're stuck with these I.D. laws.
DIONNELet's do everything we can to live by them. I want people to show up at the polls. And if they're going to be denied the right to vote, I want everybody in the country to see it.
REHME.J. Dionne, he is senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a columnist for The Washington Post. I'd sure wish somebody could give me an actual number of how many cases of fraud have been committed. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd we're back. It's time to open the phones and to hear your thoughts, your perspectives on voter fraud and the requirement by some states of voter I.D., also some states restricting the amount of time within which voters can cast their ballots. First to Joan, in Portsmouth, N.H., you're on the air.
JOANThank you, Diane. Here in New Hampshire, there's been a really a partisan battle going on. We now have a Republican legislature. And a number of bills were introduced, the bill that would require -- make it very tough for students to vote. Fortunately, it was defeated. Our secretary of state, who is very esteemed, Bill Gardner, was opposed to the bill.
JOANIn terms of motivation, our speaker of the House said publicly, and was quoted in the news, that these laws -- students are basically doing what he did when he was kid and foolish, voting as a liberal. He thinks that the college towns are losing the ability to govern them. This is what he said on the record. That bill was defeated. But we do now have a voter I.D. bill that passed both Houses of our legislature. It is on the governor's desk.
JOANOur governor is a Democrat, and I do hope that he will veto the bill. The bill will require people who are already registered to have a photo I.D. with them when they present to get their ballots. It is very strict to register to vote in our state -- but the same day access. And the small town nature of our polling places keeps our elections very clean.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. E.J.
DIONNEI appreciate that call because if people go to the website of Rock the Vote, they have up on their website some of the arguments made by legislators to create a greater burden on students to vote, to make it harder for students to vote, which is clearly -- has a partisan motivation, given the way students have been voting.
DIONNEAnd then some of these legislators got up and said, students are emotional. They don't make rational decisions. They were saying flatly, we are trying to keep some of these irrational, emotional people from the ballot box.
SPAKOVSKYWell, I'm not going to defend some foolish state legislator who said something like that. Everyone over the age of 18 is eligible -- should be easily able to vote. And the laws that we have been talking about, such as voter I.D. at the polling places, requiring proof of citizenship when you register to vote, none of those will prevent legitimate, eligible Americans from being able to vote.
SPAKOVSKYAnd, like I said, despite all these anecdotes I keep hearing from Wendy and from E.J., you look at the actual turnout in the precincts in states that have put these in place, and they show that it does not depress turnout.
DIONNEThe anecdotes are on the side of those claiming massive voter fraud or that voter fraud is a big enough problem to restrict the rights to vote for other people. But I'd like Wendy to have a chance to answer what...
REHMAnd, Wendy, that's the problem I continue to raise, which is do we know just how much voter fraud is actually taking place in this country?
WEISERI do. I think that that is, in part, the right question. I do want to say I agree with Secretary Kobach that, really, the motive isn't of the legislators or whoever is trying to push these things is not really where we should be focusing. Where we should be focusing is on the effect of these laws. And the real question, what are the facts? And there are -- certainly are disputes on what are the facts.
WEISERBut I think there is generally widespread agreement that however much voter fraud there is, I think there's -- you know, we -- that it is not a dramatic problem that is in the thousands and thousands of votes each election cycle. We have seen it is very hard to prove a negative. But all the thorough studies that have been done of elections and disputed elections have found only a small handful of cases of the kinds of voter fraud that might have been able to be prevented by voter I.D., you know, really, on the, you know, as many as you -- less than you can count on a hand.
WEISERAnd this is, again, a much, much smaller number than the numbers of people that could be excluded by a very Draconian ideologue. And we're not talking about the idea of voter I.D. in general. We're talking about laws that just give you a small, limited number of I.D.s that you can present with no alternatives, no other way of demonstrating your identity.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Tallahassee, Fla. Good morning, Alex. You're on the air.
ALEXThanks, Diane. It disturbs me that so much of this is occurring in the mail-in fraud. That's where the real voter fraud can exist in the higher numbers because the people who engage in it don't have to be there. They can -- their chances of getting caught are extremely limited. And they can do it in an efficient rate. You know, if you go and claim you're someone you're not at a voter's booth, you're going to have to wait in line.
ALEXHow many times can you do that in one day? Five times, six times? But you can really stuff the ballot box with mail-in ballots. And what I've discovered is that in many states where they have heavy Democrat populations that control the voting -- what do they call the guy who's the voter register guy, who's in charge of that?
ALEXThey actually have signs in places like Chicago, in the courthouses, that encourage illegal immigrants to vote, with signs that say things like, it is illegal for anyone to check your citizenship status in order to vote. Now, what would be the purpose of signs like that other than to basically encourage people who are not here legally to register to vote?
DIONNEThe purpose of signs like that is for election officials not to try to intimidate legal immigrants and keep them away from the polls. These -- they're -- the evidence that we have masses of illegal immigrants or even substantial numbers of illegal immigrants casting ballots is just not there. And I want to go back to something Wendy said, and I partly disagree with her on this, which is that the motives don't matter here.
DIONNEWhen you have supporters of these bills getting up and saying plainly, we're trying to keep a certain group of people from voting, that tells you something about the motivations behind these laws and that they are intended, in some cases, to be discriminatory against particular groups.
REHME.J., at beginning of this program, you thanked us for doing a program on this. What about the rest of the media? To what extent has it focused on this media? And to what extent has there been a pushing it to the side?
DIONNEWell, I think one of the problems with the way this has been covered in the media is that the political impact of these laws is so clear, which is to say, as that Republican official honestly said to the Houston Chronicle, that the more restrictive the laws, the more it helps the Republican Party. Therefore, this is dealt with as a partisan issue. Republicans say fraud. Democrats say voter suppression.
DIONNEWhat we really need, I think -- and I hope we can -- we, meaning all of us in this debate -- can encourage a lot of work to be done saying, how big a problem is voter fraud? And are we going to keep tens of thousands away from the polling places to prevent a couple of hundred fraudulent votes? And let's have a real exploration of this issue before we begin to restrict people's right to vote.
SPAKOVSKYWell, let me say something to the caller...
REHMHold on. Hold on, Kris.
SPAKOVSKYJust that the caller is right. I mean, there is a problem with absentee ballots. And, in fact, it was in Florida that their law enforcement agency some years ago issued a report saying, very rightly, that absentee ballots are the tool of choice. In fact, a Miami mayor's race was overturned using absentee ballot fraud, 5,000 fraudulent absentee ballots. A court threw out the case.
SPAKOVSKYThe Miami Herald won a Pulitzer Prize investigating it. But, in fact, Kris Kobach can say one of the things they've done in his bill is put in some provisions to try to make it tougher to engage in absentee ballot fraud.
KOBACHWell, I'd like to respond to a couple of things that have been said, first, by E.J. He made a point a couple -- maybe 10 minutes ago that one of the purposes of these photo I.D. laws was to depress turn out among college students. Now, just think about that statement for a moment, and you'll realize how silly it is. College students at every college in America are presented with a photo I.D., which is sufficient to vote.
KOBACHCollege students also tend to have enough money to attend college. So the notion that these are poor individuals, which go -- plays into the other theory of the left on this is simply incorrect. College students have photos. They are easily able to vote. A second point E.J. just made, a few minutes ago, was that the sign outside of a polling place encouraging people who could not prove their citizenship was some -- you know, that that's all about legal versus illegal.
KOBACHIt doesn't matter whether you are an alien here legally or illegally. Only U.S. citizens can vote. And this is a very substantial problem. In Kansas, we've already identified 67 aliens on our voter rolls, six of whom did vote in recent elections. And then, finally, let me go to the point we were just discussing, mail-in fraud. This is a very big problem. Of the 221 cases I mentioned in Kansas, approximately 50 are mail-in fraud.
KOBACHAnd the problem with fraud through mail-in ballots or advance ballots is you could have rock solid evidence that the fraud occurred. And we do. We have individuals who testified that someone fraudulently voted their ballot. But you have virtually no ability to prosecute the case because there are no fingerprints. There's no trail whatsoever.
KOBACHAnd that is -- it's such a pernicious form of fraud. Imagine this. If I want to create 10 fictitious identities and give them my last name Kobach, I can do it from my home. I can fill out 10 registration cards, make up 10 people's first names, send them in. No one's going to verify that these people are citizens or that they actually exist. Then on Election Day, I vote by mail. I send in ballot requests for all 10. Nobody's going to check.
KOBACHAnd that's why the Kansas system says, okay, we're going to make sure that the person exists by proving citizenship at the front end. And on voting day, we're going to make sure that you have a photo I.D. (unintelligible)
REHMAll right. E.J.
DIONNEFirst of all, on a small point, what I meant to say -- Secretary Kobach has a point. I meant to say legal voters who have to be citizens, not legal immigrants. But there is an effort to intimidate legal citizens from voting. But, if I heard the secretary right, we can agree on another thing. It sounds like that law in Kansas allows student I.D.s to be used. Some of these -- is that correct, secretary?
KOBACHThat is correct.
DIONNEWell, good for you, because there are states that specifically do not allow student I.D.s to be used. Let me...
REHMWisconsin is one.
DIONNEAnd in Texas, you can use your concealed carry license as I.D., but you cannot use your student I.D. And if you look at the -- again, if you look at the exit polls, gun owners -- households in which there were guns voted overwhelmingly for John McCain. Households in which there were not guns voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. So concealed carry licenses, yes, student I.D.s, no.
DIONNEThere's a problem here. So good for Kansas for at least allowing student I.D.s to be used.
REHMWhat about his comment on mail-in fraud?
DIONNEYeah, go ahead, Wendy.
REHMGo ahead, Wendy.
WEISERI just want to make sure that your listeners don't have a misimpression that our system is so insecure that way. Congress actually closed that loophole. It is now across the country. It would be extraordinarily difficult to submit fictitious registrations to vote their names because, actually, you do have to show some form of identification if you are a new registrant because you vote either with your registration or at the time you appear at the polls.
WEISERAnd that's for every new registrant across the country under federal law.
KOBACHAnd it includes bills which are incredibly easy to forge. I could still do the scheme that I just described very easily by mail. No one would ever have any (unintelligible).
REHMAll right. Hans.
SPAKOVSKYI'm sorry. But that is just incorrect when he said -- the federal law said you could use things like a utility bill or a bank statement, something I can easily create by word processing system. This is just not -- that is just not something that will prevent that kind of thing from happening.
REHMAgain, you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. E.J.
DIONNEI was just going to say we're in Harry Potter land. Our friends here just keep manufacturing this, well, I could do this. Well, I could do that. Yeah, well, there are a lot of things we could do. What is evidence that this is going on on a massive scale?
REHMAll right. (unintelligible)
SPAKOVSKYI'll be happy to give you an example.
SPAKOVSKYThis is a grand jury report issued in New York State by Elizabeth Holtzman, back when she was the district attorney...
REHMBut that's a good many years ago.
SPAKOVSKYThis was in -- released in '84. And she found a massive voter fraud scheme there where thousands of fraudulent ballots were cast in every election, including -- there were 20 -- there were crews of people who went from polling place to polling place, voting under the names of bogus voter registration forms, impersonating voters. This one crew, each of whom voted more than 20 times in election.
SPAKOVSKYHere's a specific example. People want other examples. There are several books that catalogued this, one by Larry Sabato, another by Tracy Campbell, another by John Fund that go through and list cases all over the country.
REHMWhat about that, Wendy Weiser?
WEISERThese cases have all predated the 2002 Help America Vote Act. And in addition to showing some form of I.D., states are actually required to verify whatever number you submit with your registration application. You should be submitting either your driver's license I.D. number if you have one or the last four digits of your Social Security number if you have one. And states are supposed to actually verify this with their DMV or Social Security records.
WEISERSo, again, this is a lot more security in the system now than in the system back in 1984.
REHMOkay. And what happened precisely in 2002 that changed the system, Wendy?
WEISERWell, after the 2000 Florida election fiasco, Congress got together and passed a law called the Help America Vote Act to try to address some of the problems that were in place and visible to everybody in Florida. These were -- they both tightened up some of the security of elections and improved a lot of the technology of elections.
WEISERAnd some of the things have made our elections a lot more secure, such as every state now has a statewide voter registration database that is linked up with other state databases, which enables states to use technology to keep cleaner voter rolls and reduce opportunities for fraud and also make it easier for people to be registered accurately.
REHMAll right. I want to take one last call from Shawn in Dayton, Ky. Quickly, please.
SHAWNHi. Yeah, I was on the campaigns in 2008 and 2004 in Cincinnati. And I've experienced firsthand some of the -- the package that -- particularly, the Republican Party (unintelligible).
REHMI'm sorry, Shawn. It's very difficult to hear you with that noise in the background. Last comment, E.J., to what extent do you think what we've been talking about this morning will have an impact on the 2012 election?
DIONNEI think it will have an impact on the states with the most restrictive laws that make it hard for people to cast ballots on Election Day. I am against fraud. The question is a balancing test. These folks have to turn all the way back to 1984. There are a couple hundred people in country who vote illegally and probably are.
DIONNEIs it worth having all these laws that will potentially keep tens of thousands away? No. And I hope there's a great civic movement in the country to make sure that everyone gets their I.D.s and figures out how to live with these laws.
REHME.J. Dionne, The Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Hans Von Spakovsky, yeah, at the Heritage Foundation. Wendy Weiser, the Brennan Center for Justice. Kris Kobach, secretary of state for Kansas. Thank you all so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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