Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
Last week county election officials in Florida said they would stop looking for possible ineligible voters because the data base they were using was outdated and inaccurate. The U.S. Department of Justice also had ordered the state to stop the purge on the grounds that it was taking place within 90 days of an election. State leaders in Florida have vowed to find another way to remove ineligible voters from their rolls. The skirmish in the state of Florida is just one of many elsewhere around the country: Last year new voter ID measures were introduced in thirty-four states and they passed in four. Four other states tightened existing ID rules. Please join us to talk about ongoing partisan battles over voter rights.
- Wendy Weiser Director, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice
- Hans Von Spakovsky Senior legal fellow, Heritage Foundation and manager of Civil Justice Reform Initiative
- Doug Chapin Director, Electionline.org at the University of Minnesota
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The effort in Florida to identify and eliminate ineligible voters from its rolls has been suspended for now. County election officials called it off because the data they were using proved inaccurate. The Obama administration had questioned the timing of the effort.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about changes to state rules on who can vote in the 2012 presidential election: Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation, Doug Chapin of Electionline.org and, from a studio at NPR in New York, Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice. I look forward to hearing your questions and comments. Join us by phone at 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. HANS VON SPAKOVSKYGood morning.
MR. DOUG CHAPINGood morning.
MS. WENDY WEISERGood morning.
REHMDoug Chapin, if I could start with you, explain what's going on in Florida.
CHAPINWhat's going on in Florida is the new governor and secretary of state are interested in identifying individuals on the voter rolls who they believe are not eligible to vote, either because of citizenship or recent immigration status, and have asked to match the voter rolls against other databases like Homeland Security database that will help the state and the constituent counties identify individuals who may not actually be eligible.
CHAPINThe dispute is whether or not that, one, whether or not that's a good match, whether or not the people who are identified as ineligible are actually ineligible, and then the other dispute is about the timing, whether or not the fact that this is going on right now in relative close proximity to the 2012 general election is too late for the state to be doing this kind of maintenance.
REHMNow, the justice department has already said that this could not continue because it was within 90 days of the August 19 election.
CHAPINThat's correct, and DOJ has essentially told Florida they're not to proceed with this program. For its part, Florida is complying for the time being but is potentially making plans to go ahead and maybe fight that order to stop the maintenance.
REHMHans von Spakovsky, explain why you believe Florida is pursuing this so aggressively.
SPAKOVSKYWell, I think most people would probably agree that if somebody is not a U.S. citizen, they shouldn't be registered in voting. But there is one other issue here that Doug didn't mention. And that is that, last October, the state of Florida requested information from the Department of Homeland Security to, in fact, check on this, and under federal law, federal immigration law, the federal government doesn't have any choice.
SPAKOVSKYThey have to respond to state request for citizenship verification, and that the Obama administration has refused to do that. So, in fact, what they have now done is they've checked against their own DMV records. And in instances where somebody who went to get a driver's license said, I'm not a U.S. citizen, but, in fact, it turns out they are registered to vote, the state has sent that information to county election officials saying, you need to investigate this and find out whether the person is or is not a U.S. citizen.
REHMWendy Weiser, what is your own assessment of what's happening in Florida?
WEISERWell, first, we should keep in mind that Florida has a horrible track record of the voter purges. In both 2000 and in 2004, Florida, similarly close to an election, came up with very large lists of potentially ineligible voters that they've tried to use the purge of voter rolls. In 2000, they actually did use that, and it turned out that they were extraordinarily faulty lists that had mostly eligible voters on them.
WEISERSo we approach this with a degree of skepticism, and as it turns out, the list that Florida has pulled together already has turned up hundreds and hundreds of eligible voters. So far, they have not been identifying ineligible voters through this process. So this is something that -- it's for good reason that federal law says you have to do this well in advance. Voter purges needed to be accurate. They need to be transparent.
WEISERWe need to know how they're doing, and it needs to happen well in advance of an election so we can get it right and correct any errors. And that's the real problem here, is that, you know, this is an erroneous process, and there isn't enough time to correct any errors on that they're clearly making already.
REHMThere is also, as I understand it, an effort to cut back on early voting. Why would that be, Wendy?
WEISERReally, we're not quite sure why there is. We don't think there's a real legitimate reason for Florida to cut back in early voting. It has actually cut back on -- introduced a whole range of new voting restrictions this past year. The early voting was especially pernicious because it cut back on the Sunday before the election when African-American churches and Latino churches were especially active in mobilizing voters to vote.
WEISERA federal court actually just recently blocked another provision of that same law which had made it virtually impossible for voter registration drives, for community-based groups, to register voters across Florida. It had stopped the League of Women Voters and other groups across the state. And that judge said, I can't think of any legitimate reason for these requirements. If they're in -- if their goal was to prevent people from registering voters, then it would've succeeded. If the goal was to advance the state's legitimate interest, then I don't understand why theses requirements are in place.
REHMHans, how do you see it, why limiting early voting?
SPAKOVSKYWell, I think probably if you talk to election officials there, they'll tell you that one of the problems with having early voting on the Sunday before the election is that they're already working almost 24 hours a day to get ready for Election Day, which is coming up that following Tuesday. And, you know, I think they cut back one out of 14 days for early voting -- that's not that big of a difference particularly because all the data shows that, in fact, early voting does not really increase turnout.
SPAKOVSKYWhat it does do is it makes it easier for people who are going to anyway to potentially go to the polls. But it probably was based on cost and the tough problem -- and Doug can talk about this -- how tough it is for local counties and others to find enough people to work on Election Day.
REHMBefore we do that, I want to go back to the data that Republican Gov. Rick Scott ordered the Election Commission to look at a list of 180,000 Floridians. Twenty-six hundred registrants were sent to the commission and given -- people were given 30 days to prove their citizenship. But then you had the supervisor of the county election say that 67 member counties who had been ordered to purge their rolls had suspended their efforts because they found so few problems.
REHMSo, you know, one wonders about, as you say, the work efforts of these people working on elections and why go through this at this point. Why is that so important?
SPAKOVSKYWell, one thing that Wendy said incorrectly is we checked one of The Miami Herald stories which had been covering this extensively. They said that, in fact, they already found 40 individuals confirmed who are not U.S. citizens who were registered to vote, and a number of them had, in fact, voted. The -- but go back to what caused this. They compared the DMV list, driver's license list, to the voter registration list.
SPAKOVSKYAnd what they found were people who had told DMV, when they went to get their driver's license, that they are not a U.S. citizen, yet they were registered to vote. The state didn't tell counties they needed to purge these people. What they said was you need to investigate and find out why this person told DMV they're not a U.S. citizen and yet they are registered to vote.
SPAKOVSKYNow, in many instances, it may be that at the time they got their driver's license, they were in the naturalization process and were not yet a U.S. citizen, so that, when the state contacts them, they'll be able to say, look, I'm now a U.S. citizen. But as I said, The Miami Herald had said they've already found 40 people who confirmed they're not U.S. citizen, yet they're registered to vote. That's a felony under federal law.
WEISERThey -- this process was -- has identified largely eligible citizens. And what they did is they didn't say, just go and investigate why they told the driver's license officials that they're not citizens, and that list was already filled with errors. They said, send them a letter telling them that if they don't respond with proof of citizenship within 30 days, you should remove them from the voter rolls.
WEISERAnd that's what citizens across Miami and the rest of Florida had received, letters that were otherwise intimidating that let them know that we think that you're not a citizen. Some of them have responded and brought in proof of citizenships. Others might not have proof of citizenship, might be out of the state, might not have received this or might actually believe that they are now no longer registered to vote.
CHAPINThis is, I think, a fascinating example of what happens when we start to use newer techniques and broader pools of information to maintain voter registration rolls. I mean, it really isn't and shouldn't be surprising that when you match a voter roll against something like a DMV list or other lists that are available to the state and local governments that you're going to identify people who appear to have moved, may appear to have died, may not have been citizens when they applied for a driver's license.
CHAPINYou know, all of this controversy aside, I mean, it's a good thing that states and localities are working to identify folks who don't necessarily belong on the rolls. Now, you know, Wendy and Hans and the people with whom they work may disagree about the right way to do that -- but I think, to the extent that we are working to identify new information sources and new techniques not just to identify people who don't belong on the rolls but also identify people who perhaps could be on the rolls and aren't, is a good thing in the long run.
REHMDoug Chapin, he is director of election -- Electionline.org at the University of Minnesota. We'll take a short break here. I want to hear your thoughts. Join us, 800-433-8850. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about voter purging rules. We're talking about efforts to clarify voters, their identities, their citizenship in Florida, Texas and many other states. On the line with us from New York is Wendy Weiser. She is director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. Here in the studio: Doug Chapin, director of Electionline.org at The University of Minnesota, and Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and manager of the Civil Justice Reform Initiative.
REHMWe have a number of emails. This first is from an election judge in Texas. Rick says, "One big problem with merging databases is that of accurate punctuation. Sometimes an address is listed as a street on one database and as a drive on another. Somebody makes a mistake in data entry, but it's the voter who gets purged. Likewise with odd name spellings." Doug?
CHAPINYeah, I think this points up a really important development in the field of election administration. But, traditionally, elections has been the province of political scientists and lawyers and has had kind of a rights focus. More and more, we're seeing the need for an engineering focus.
CHAPINYou've got people out there, who I loving call election geeks, who are focused on finding ways to make sure that Main Drive and Main Street are really different places, and that someone who puts a comma between the junior in their name on their driver's license but not on their voter registration roll can be matched appropriately. The challenge is for those election geeks, if you will, to provide data to the policymakers, the lawyers and the advocates to make sure the disputes that arise as a result are resolved appropriately.
REHMAnd here's another from Bill, who says, "Is there any data on just how much money cash-strapped states have spent removing voters from the voting rolls? I think I heard on NPR in the last few weeks," says Bill, "that there have actually been lot less voter fraud than we seem to think there is. Is the removing of people wrongly a criminal offense? And if so, who is actually liable for doing it?" Hans.
SPAKOVSKYWell, under the National Voter Registration Act, there are very strict rules that govern how voters can be removed, and states have to follow that. And if they don't, they can be sued by the Department of Justice or by a private party for violating the law. In this particular case, the 90-day rule that the Justice Department says applies does not apply to people who are not U.S. citizens.
SPAKOVSKYThe 90-day rule does apply to people who have, for example, moved away, and the state can't take them off with the 90 days of the general program. But somebody who is ineligible to register because they're not a U.S. citizen can be removed at any time just like the fact that anyone who is deceased, who's become -- has a felony conviction or has become mentally incompetent as declared by a court, they can be removed at any time.
SPAKOVSKYAnd it's -- it is important to realize that part of the problem here as I said before is that Florida has been put in this position because the Department of Homeland Security won't comply with federal law and won't make their database available to the state as the state requested it. They're violating federal law by not doing that.
REHMWhat about that, Wendy Weiser?
WEISERWell, I want to start with the point about the errors and the purge process.
WEISERAnd I do want to echo what Doug was saying that it's really important that we improve our use of election technology. It's something that will reduce our errors, something that we can use to get millions of eligible voters on the rolls and clean up our voter rolls. We all benefit from accurate and up-to-date voter rolls. You know, the problem is that some of the techniques we use have -- are error-prone, like the one that Florida has been using.
WEISERAnd we have to understand the techniques that we're using and make sure that we don't disenfranchise eligible voters in the process. And that's why we have protections in place. That's why we don't do it close to an election. That's why we have safeguards to make sure that voters get notified and have an opportunity to correct. That's why we have to make sure that they are accurate and use accurate systems, and that's what the problem is here. And I do respectfully disagree with Mr. Von Spakovsky on what can and can't be done within 90 days of a federal election.
WEISERThe -- under the law, any systematic purge, anything that is systematically attempted to remove lots and lots of eligible voters has to be completed within 90 days. There is an exception for people who get convicted of felonies or people who are deceased, and that's because obviously that happens -- that continues to happen after an election, whereas somebody who might mistakenly get on the voter rolls 'cause they're a non-citizen, we -- this is something we could've checked long ago.
REHMWhat about Hans' comment regarding the Department of Homeland Security non-compliance?
WEISERYou know, I have not looked into whether or not they were given the list that they requested. This is something that is outside the scope of election law. This is something that comes from another area of law, and this is something that the Department of Justice hasn't yet responded to yet.
REHMAll right. And here's an email from Paul, who says, "I have a hard time believing that an illegal alien would raise their visibility by trying to register to vote. They tend to keep a very low profile." Doug Chapin.
CHAPINWell, I think the thing to remember is that these aren't all -- you know, these aren't necessarily undocumented immigrants. Many of these people are here legally. They're just not citizens. And one of the things that is a bedrock requirement for voting, at least in U.S. federal law elections, is that you be a United States citizen. So the concern is -- and we saw this in the series of stories also involving jury forums where a local TV station identified people who had asked to be excused from federal juries on the basis that they were non-citizens but then also turned up on the voter rolls.
CHAPINThese aren't necessarily people who are hiding from the federal government because they're here illegally. They're just not citizens and may or may not know that they're ineligible to vote in federal and most state elections.
REHMAll right. Wendy, we've been talking thus far about Florida. How does what's happening there compare to what's going on in other states?
WEISERWell, there's actually been a very large wave of laws making it harder for eligible Americans to vote that have been put in place over the past two years. Overall, there have been 25 laws and executive actions that were passed since the beginning of last year in 18 different states all making it harder to vote. That's the bad news. The good news is there's also been a real pushback against these laws very recently by voters, by courts, by the Department of Justice, and the voters are gaining ground. Courts have struck down or blocked laws in Florida that were cutting back on voter registration.
WEISERIn Arizona, they were also making it hard, requiring people to show proof of citizenship to register. In Wisconsin, laws that imposed owner's identification requirements. Missouri, there -- citizens have pushed back on laws in Ohio, Maine, South Carolina, and the Department of Justice has also raised objections to laws in three states as well. So there's been a real concerted pushback to this wave of restrictive voting laws. Florida has been really at the forefront of these restrictions, but it is by no means the only state where these kinds of battles are being played out.
REHMAt the same time, Hans, you're very active in the Help America Vote Act. What's changed in our voting process as a result? First explain what that act is.
SPAKOVSKYSure. The Help America Vote Act was passed in 2002, and this was the first federal law in voting since the Motor Voter was passed in '92. And this was the law that was a result of what had happened in Florida in 2000. And there were a whole series of things put in. One of the main things -- and this is what we're talking about today -- is it required every state to put in a statewide computerized voter registration list.
SPAKOVSKYUp until then, there were many states where just the counties kept it, and you could be registered in one county and then register in another county state, and they wouldn't even know about it. So they set up these computerized statewide voter registration databases. And they also told states that they needed to check and verify the accuracy of the information on the list, and that included doing database comparisons with other state databases and, for example, with the Social Security Administration database so they could find people who have died.
SPAKOVSKYThey also put in a requirement for provisional ballots. So if you show up at a polling place, you're not on the registration list, as long as you say, look, I'm eligible, I did try to register to vote, they'll give you a ballot. And, in fact, if that's all true, your ballot then will count. I mean, those were the main things that the law put in. There's a whole series of other things, including -- they gave a lot of money to the states to help them put in new fixes to many of these problems.
REHMDo you have any idea of how much election fraud has been discovered to bring about all these changes in the laws?
SPAKOVSKYWell, it just depends on what kind of fraud you're talking about.
REHMI'm talking about people who are ineligible attempting to vote.
SPAKOVSKYWell, the Justice Department prosecuted more than a dozen individuals in Florida, which we've been talking about, between 2002, 2005, who were not U.S. citizens, who registered and/or voted down there, including a guy who also ran for the state legislature.
REHMIt just somehow seems a very small number of those who are attempting to commit an illegal act compared to all the money that is being spent -- has been spent -- continues to be spent to rule the -- root these folks out.
SPAKOVSKYWell, look, under two federal laws -- the Help America Vote Act and the National Voter Registration Act, the Motor Voter -- states have a legal obligation...
SPAKOVSKY...to clean up their voter rolls and remove people who have become ineligible because they've died or become mentally incompetent or moved out of state. And I don't think -- look, I mean, I'm not sure what you're saying, Diane, that we should quit spending money to verify the accuracy of voter rolls? Indiana did that.
SPAKOVSKYAnd when the Supreme Court upheld its photo ID law, they pointed out that because Indiana had been doing such a bad job of doing that, at least 41 percent -- and this is the Supreme Court opinion -- 41 percent of the names on the statewide voter registration list were bad names: ineligible voters, duplicates, people who had moved away. That's how bad that state was at maintaining its voter roll.
CHAPINYeah. And I think that's the debate we're seeing across the country. In many ways, it's a political debate, and I think, you know, Hans and Wendy have very sharply divergent points of view. But in many ways, it relies on our growing understanding of how slippery the election administration process can be.
REHMDoug Chapin, he's director of electionline.org at the University of Minnesota. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Joining us now is Arlene Holt Baker of the AFL-CIO. Good morning to you. Well, I guess we've lost our guest. Let's go to the phones, to Keene, N.H. Good morning, David.
DAVIDGood morning. I was going to ask them real quick as a preface. This is partisan. This seems to be partisan. And the Republicans want to do the voter ID, and the Democrats don't. Now, do the Republicans think only Democrats do voter fraud?
WEISERYou know, it is true that there has been a partisan divide on the issue of voter ID, where Republicans have been largely supportive of the new restrictive voter IDs. And Democrats have been pushing back against those because they do harm constituencies who, they believe, are more likely to vote Democratic, like minorities, poor voters, students, the elderly. So as a factual matter, that is true.
WEISERI think that the -- it is -- it's probably true that both sides believe that this serves their partisan agenda. I think where we really need to be focused on is really, you know, is this right? Is this fair for the voters? Is this something that is unduly excluding eligible voters? Is this creating a fair fight, not which side does it help and which side does it hurt?
REHMAll right. To Alexandria, Va. Good morning, Steve. You're on the air.
STEVEHi. I've periodically volunteered to help with elections in a couple of states. And I would like to voice support for what one of your guests said about the need for more election geeks, if you will, because it -- I mean, there are a number of people who are very great people who continuously volunteer to help with elections.
STEVEBut as more regulations are placed at the state and federal level, it puts a whole lot of pressure on local election administrators and also poll judges, especially as states are cutting back on budgets. I mean, people, you know, who do this year after year are expected to check IDs, to go, you know, look against the registration list and expected to do this very quickly.
STEVEBut there's really no way that -- you know, if somebody, you know, hands off their ID to somebody else and looks like a similar person or, you know, there's a dump of new election lists very quickly close to the election, saying that these people are knocked off or -- you know, you have new registrants who are allowed to vote, but you don't know where they're going, you know, where their polling place is, these are all challenges that the election system has to deal with.
CHAPINYeah, absolutely. I don't think I could have planted that question better myself. The job of election administration in this country has gotten exponentially more difficult and complex than it was even a decade ago. I'm working with University of Minnesota on a program that will help bring new training and professionalism to the field of election administration.
CHAPINBut, really, given the technology, given the changing laws, given the challenge of new languages and other requirements across the country, we need people who not only love democracy but know what they're doing when they administer it.
REHMWendy Weiser, how much of the system itself, with the people who are working on it, really needs to improve?
WEISERYeah. I mean, I couldn't agree more with Doug. And I think that one thing that everybody agrees with -- if we're looking at the voter purge issue, for example -- is that we need to have accurate and complete voter rolls, and new technology can help us. Where we are disagreeing is, you know, do we err on the side of the voter or do we err on the side of knocking people out to -- in the chance that we might, therefore, deter voter fraud?
WEISERAnd I think that there's a sharp disagreement there, but there's no disagreement that the ideal solution is complete and accurate voter rolls. And that's something that technology can help with. That's something that election geeks and non-election geeks across the country can help with.
REHMWendy Weiser, director of Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about voter ID laws around the country, some voter restrictions in place. Let's go now to Cincinnati, Ohio and to Ron. Good morning to you.
RONGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
RONAnd, Diane, I really appreciate this show because you can hear both sides of a story. I think voters really need to hear both sides of a story so they can make up their minds and do an educated vote. But my primary purpose for calling was I live in Ohio, which is totally controlled by one party, the Republican Party, and I'm seeing, in Ohio, an attempt to restrict voters. For instance, I have a disability. I have to vote absentee ballots because I cannot always make it into the -- to vote, and yet I'm hearing more and more attempts to limit the accessibility of voters like me to an absentee ballot.
RONAnd also, I think these laws are actually a -- laws looking for a problem. The problem, really, is that we have very few people, even though they're registered to vote, that vote, and so you want to restrict it even more. And then a lot of people don't vote, and if they do vote, a lot of times, they're not voting very -- they don't -- they really don't take the time to find out what the real issues are.
REHMAll right. Well, that's another whole issue for another program. But let's talk about this absentee ballot voting or early voting because of some physical problem. Hans.
SPAKOVSKYWell, I don't know what the caller is talking about. There's no attempts anywhere in the country that I know of to restrict the ability of people who are disabled or sick to vote by absentee ballot. That's just not correct.
REHMWell, are you saying that Ron is not telling a true story?
SPAKOVSKYNo, no, no. I just think he's mistaken. I don't know of any proposals anywhere in any state that would restrict the ability of someone who is ill or disabled from being able to vote by absentee ballot.
WEISERWhat I think the caller was talking about was one of the restrictions in a very large scale voting law that Ohio had originally passed this year would have made it more difficult for people who cast absentee ballots to have those ballots counted. It required very specific matches of five pieces of information on the piece of paper exactly with all the same database matching problems that we've already heard about. So that was of serious concern to voters like our caller and other voters across Ohio.
WEISERThe good news in Ohio is that citizens actually push backed against that law. There was a ballot initiative attempt. Ohio has a provision that allows voters to try and repeal these kids of laws by ballot initiative. And when they got enough signatures to put it on the ballot, the legislature responded by repealing almost all of the provisions of that law. So that will no longer be a problem in Ohio, but that was something that we did see in Ohio. And it wasn't the only state that was trying to cut back on absentee voting this year.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Oklahoma City. Good morning, Laura.
LAURAGood morning. I appreciate your show.
LAURAOklahoma recently cast, you know, voter ID cards, and in the primary where I went to go vote, I had my driver's license. And they weren't going to accept my driver's license. They insisted on my voter ID card that they had been mailing out. And I knew I had it in my purse. And I'm searching through my purse and searching through my purse.
LAURAAnd, you know, finally, you know, it was taking so long -- the line was backing up that I -- you know, they finally accepted my driver's license. I was like, this is -- I've been voting for 40 years. And I'm a Democrat, and, you know, Oklahoma is very Republican. And I was just like, this is interesting.
REHMSo what do you make of that, Wendy Weiser?
WEISERYou know, this does point to one of the problems that we haven't been talking about is that, you know, these new -- not just the voter ID laws, but a lot of the laws that affect what happens at the polling place are very complicated and difficult to administer. And poll workers make mistakes. It's hard to keep them straight. And what studies actually show, unfortunately, is that a lot of people who aren't required to show voter ID are asked for voter ID at the polls.
WEISERAnd, as it turns out, some people are asked more frequently than others. African Americans, for example, and other minorities are asked to show photo ID to vote in many states where they're not required to. And so we do see a problem of enforcement of these laws and that some -- part of the problem of overcomplicating our rules of election administration across the states is that it's really hard to administer for folks.
SPAKOVSKYWell, there's no question that we've passed so many laws in recent years, particularly the federal government with the Help America Vote Act, that election administration is very complex. But, in fact, that brings up an issue that I think your -- one of the earlier callers, you know, was a younger caller who had worked in elections, and, you know, of the biggest problems we have today is the average age of election poll workers is their early 70s.
SPAKOVSKYWe do not have large numbers of young people coming in to the ranks. And that's causing problems all over the country because we don't have younger people coming in to work on elections. And, frankly, we need that, particularly because of the fact that the administration has gotten so complex because of all of the local ordinance and state laws and particularly federal laws on this issue.
REHMHere's an email from Kirin, (sp?) a listener to KGOU, who says, "I have a question for both sides. How many legal voters are you willing to mistakenly remove from their rolls in order to prevent one illegal voter from voting? How many illegal voters are you willing to allow to make sure a legal voter can vote? Please, here -- from here on, we must have there is no way to have zero mistakes." Doug.
CHAPINYeah, and that's absolutely the problem. I think -- I really think that the hardest core partisans on both sides of this argument would agree that there is likely not zero instance of fraud, nor is there zero instance of otherwise eligible people being turned away. The problem we face, quite frankly, is that we don't know how big the problem is either way. In many ways, your question -- your email question is almost like a philosophy class. You know, how much injustice are we willing to suffer in order to stop another injustice?
CHAPINAnd, right now, we really don't know, on either side of the equation, how many potentially illegal voters we would have were it not for something like, say, voter ID, nor do we have a really good handle on how many people who are otherwise eligible who would be denied as a result of ID. And in the absence of that, it's really hard for the policy process to make policy judgments, and I think that explains a lot of the heat we're seeing on both sides of these issues.
REHMWendy, how do you see that?
WEISERI do see that there are a lot of thing that we do know. If we take, for example, these purge lists, we do know that there have been tens of thousands of eligible voters who've been purged erroneously in Florida alone and in other states as well. We do know on the ID front, we've seen hundreds and thousands in different local elections -- and I've seen this already -- of people who have been denied the right to vote because they didn't have ID. So we do see people who have been excluded.
WEISERWe don't have any numbers of people who have been dissuaded from voting illegally. In fact, the numbers that we do have, despite the huge amounts of studies and resources that been put in to try to identify them, are infinitesimal. It's an extraordinarily small percentage. So I think that the balance is fairly clear based on the evidence that's out there.
SPAKOVSKYThere is no evidence whatsoever that tens of thousands of people, as Wendy had claimed, had been turned away from the polls because of voter ID laws. In fact, the states that have had voter ID law in place now for years, Georgia and Indiana, they have not had any problems like that. States that have recently put it in, like Tennessee, Kansas, have just had elections. They've reported almost no problems.
SPAKOVSKYThe number of people who actually have taken advantage of having to get a free photo ID in states like Georgia, because they didn't already have one, as opposed to the, you know, 25 percent, 10 percent of people that the Brennan Center has claimed, in Georgia, it was like two, three, one hundredths of 1 percent of people who actually needed to get a free photo ID.
REHMSo here we are listening to two people, one claiming hundreds of thousands have actually been turned away and another claiming no one or very, very few have been turned away. How can we, who are listening -- and I include myself -- know what's true? Wendy.
WEISERI mean, I -- the tens of thousands of people that I was referring to were the people who were erroneously purged on the voter ID front. There have been -- we know that there are millions...
WEISER...21 million precisely of Americans across the country who actually don't have state-issued photo IDs of the kind required by the law. We don't know how many overall -- and there are studies currently being done -- have been turned away from the polls. But we do know -- and there've been a number of looks at local and recent elections where hundreds of voters were turned away, in the Tennessee primary, for example, and hundreds elsewhere.
WEISERAnd so this is, you know, going to be studied, and we should have an answer as to how many people are actually turned away. But we know that there are already millions of people who would be excluded if they did try to vote because they don't have those kinds of IDs. And that number has been reaffirmed over and over again by every independent study that really 10, 11 percent of eligible voters don't have the kinds of photo ID that these new laws are asking people to show.
REHMSo, Hans, you're still shaking your head, so...
SPAKOVSKYOh, I'm shaking my head because you can look at the turnout in states like Georgia. You can look at hard numbers rather than the speculation that you're hearing from the Brennan Center. You can look at the hard numbers, and you can see that turnout was not hurt by the voter photo ID requirement in Georgia. You can see by the number of people who asked for a free photo ID from the state that it was a very small number.
SPAKOVSKYAnd when it came to actually proving these kinds of speculative claims in court by bringing in evidence -- neither the Brennan Center, the ACLU and LSAP, they could not do that. In fact, that's why their federal lawsuits against the Indiana photo ID, against the Georgia photo ID were thrown out.
SPAKOVSKYAnd in those cases, the judges, in particular, said that the reason they had thrown them out was because, contrary to their apocalyptic claims that hundreds of thousand of people will be unable to vote, they couldn't provide any evidence of a single person in Georgia or Indiana who would be unable to vote because of the photo ID requirement. And that's why those laws have been in place now for five years, numerous federal state and local elections with no problems.
WEISERYeah. That is referring to a quote from the -- in the Indiana case from the Supreme Court, a case that was brought before the photo ID law was put in place. So the issue in the case was whether or not the court would be willing to block the ID law before it was put in place. And the court understood that what was really at stake is measuring how many people would be turned away compared to what kind of fraud this was -- would deter.
WEISERThe court found that the fraud actually was not a problem, and they was only about identified two instances in over a century's worth of evidence. But because there was no evidence yet of anybody that would turned away, and there couldn't have been, the law had not yet been put into place. You couldn't block the law, in whole or in part, before an election. The court did not find that nobody would be harmed. The court found that there was no evidence yet, and, in fact, there was not in that case.
WEISERBut there are bunch of cases now pending where the evidence is being amassed, and that's what courts are now considering in -- both in South Carolina, in Texas, in Wisconsin. And two separate Wisconsin state courts just blocked that state's laws, for example. So we're going to be seeing a lot more evidence when these (unintelligible).
REHMWendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Doug Chapin, you wanted to comment?
CHAPINYeah, I did. I think that what you're hearing in the discussion between Hans and Wendy is a pretty good depiction of the state of the debate right now. We have one side concerned about voter fraud and offering up policies like photo ID and more aggressive list maintenance as a result. And you have another side, which worries about the impact of those policies on voters. The truth is, right now, there really isn't much evidence on either side of the ledger to support either one of those positions.
CHAPINI have no doubt that both sides don't feel very strongly about fraud or suppression. But, right now, we don't have much in a way of evidence on voter fraud, and, right now, we don't have much evidence that eligible registered voters who want to turn out lack the proper ID. You know, going back to your original question, you know, what can voters believe? And I think, in some ways, you have to screen out the partisan noise on this issue.
CHAPINAnd the only thing that voters can do is take care of themselves, make sure that they are registered, that they know where to vote, that they know what's on their ballot, they know how to operate their voting machine. We have a responsibility to one another as fellow voters. But, in many ways, when it comes to Election Day, you have to make sure you are the moving part that's working most properly.
REHMAnd you've raised at the very end of the program the issue I'd like to raise with you and that is the voting machines themselves. There are an awful lot of people worried about those. What can you say to them?
CHAPINWell, I think there are election officials who are worried about them. I mean, just anything else that you buy at state and local government, you've got maintenance and upkeep issues. Again, if you're a voter, know how your machine works, know how to fill out your ballot, know the rules for correcting a ballot if it makes a mistake. Machines of any kind can work well. They can work poorly. Your responsibility on Election Day is to make sure your vote not only goes in the front of machine but comes out properly through the back.
REHMBut how can you know that it's working properly?
CHAPINIn a precinct count optical-scan state, for example, know what happens, how to look for a machine kicking back a ballot for -- over votes.
REHMHow do you know that? How do you know that?
CHAPINYou can reach out to local election officials. You can ask questions to poll workers. One thing that election administrators are very good at is making lots of information available. You have to know how the machine works, and if you don't know, ask questions because people are there to help.
REHMBut if you're asking questions and holding up the line, as one of our earlier callers said, you know, that can get pretty difficult for voters.
CHAPINYeah. But I think that's the lesson for voters, is that voting doesn't begin and end on Election Day. Just as ideally you want to know who you're going to vote for before you enter that voting booth, you should know how the process works. And if you're not comfortable with the process, there is an opportunity, and I would even suggest the responsibility, to make sure you know how the process works.
REHMSo you need to know how that voting machine works before you go into the polling booth?
CHAPINIdeally, you should, yes.
REHMBut how do you have that opportunity?
CHAPINAgain, I think you reach out to your local election official. I think most of them have websites. There are opportunities to do demos with voting machines. Sometimes it's familiar. But if it's a new technology, don't be afraid to ask questions 'cause there's no shortage to people willing to answer them.
REHMDoug Chapin, director of Electionline.org at the University of Minnesota, Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice and Hans Von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation, thank you all so much. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Trump impeachment witness Fiona Hill on what her own background says about this political moment, and why she thinks the greatest threat to American democracy now comes from within.
Cities and states across the country are exploring reparations programs for Black Americans, but not all reparations advocates think it's the right approach. Diane talks to Mayor Daniel Biss of Evanston, Ill., and William Darity, Jr., and Kirsten Mullen, the co-authors of the book, "From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century”
The New Yorker's Evan Osnos traces the roots of divisions in the U.S. from 9/11 to January 6. His new book is "Wildland: The Making of America's Fury."