Fifty years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, states are passing a flurry of voting restrictions that effectively peel back the historic law's effects — disproportionately hurting minority voters under the mantle of protecting America's electoral system from voter fraud. The idea is that requiring, for instance, a photo ID to vote will prove someone is actually eligible to exercise his or her fundamental right.
But the type of in-person voter fraud these initiatives target is nonexistent to extremely rare. Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt has tracked credible allegations of in-person voter impersonation for years, finding 35 total credible allegations between 2000 and 2014, when more than 800 million ballots were cast in national general elections, and hundreds of millions more were cast in primary, municipal, special, and other elections.
The kinds of voter fraud that do happen are vote buying, insider ballot-box stuffing, double voting, and voting by people who turn out to be ineligible. The New York Times's Jim Rutenberg reported on a 1997 case in which it was revealed that Miami Mayor Xavier Suárez clinched his electoral victory "with the help of hundreds of absentee ballots bearing the names of dead people, felons and other ineligible voters." While Suárez was never charged, he was eventually forced to step down from office after an appellate court threw out the absentee ballots.
Since then, Republicans have accused several organizations of planning or carrying out voter fraud, targeting groups like the New Black Panther Party (which isn't affiliated with the original Black Panther Party), and community organizing group ACORN with various accusations during and after President Barack Obama's 2008 election.
But voter ID laws — including the much-scrutinized law in North Carolina — don't address the types of fraud that do happen. The North Carolina law in fact made it easier to vote by mail-in absentee ballot by making registration forms more easily available online, and it doesn't require absentee voters to show photo ID.
Civil rights groups, who are challenging North Carolina's law in court, say these gaps and contradictions in voting restriction laws show that Republicans pushing the measures aren't really trying to stop voter fraud, but instead are trying to make it more difficult for minority voters — who tend to support Democrats — to cast their ballots. And indeed, multiple studies show that black and Hispanic voters are disproportionately impacted by the new wave of voting restrictions.