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John Oliver's glorious takedown of voter ID laws

John Oliver's Last Week Tonight is back — with an incredible takedown of controversial voter ID laws from around the country.

"In recent years, some states have made voting easier — for instance, three states now hold their elections almost entirely by mail, and 30 states plus DC now let you register to vote online," Oliver said. "Sadly, others have gone in the opposite direction — because depending on who you are and where you live, you may face new obstacles to voting."

Specifically, Oliver looked at laws that require a photo ID to vote.

The segment ran through four major points:

  • Oliver noted that getting an ID can be really hard: "In Sauk City, Wisconsin … the ID office is only open on the fifth Wednesday of every month, and only four months in 2016 even have five Wednesdays."
  • Minority voters are much less likely to have the proper ID: "Studies have shown these restrictions tend to disproportionately impact African-American and Latino voters. In Texas, for instance, experts found that African-American voters were nearly twice as likely to lack voter ID, and Latinos were nearly two and a half times as likely. It's just one of those things that white people seem to be more likely to have, like a sunburn or an Oscar nomination."
  • Voter ID laws are tackling a problem that doesn't happen much: "While American history is littered with vote buying, vote tampering, and ballot-box stuffing, voter ID doesn't prevent those crimes. The only crime it prevents is voter impersonation — one person showing up to the polls, pretending to be someone they're not. Which is a pretty stupid crime, because you have to stand in line at a polling place and risk five years in prison and a $10,000 fine all to cast one probably not-consequential extra vote. … The truth here is voter impersonation fraud is incredibly rare."
  • If voter impersonation is happening anywhere, it's in the state legislatures that pass voter ID laws: "This process is called ghost voting, and it happens in state legislatures all over the country. And sometimes they involve literal ghost votes — one lawmaker in Texas died and was recorded voting three times later that day."

Oliver's third claim is particularly important. It would be one thing if there were evidence of widespread voter impersonation. But there's not — in fact, just the opposite.

Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt has tracked credible allegations of in-person voter impersonation for years, finding just 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.

So what is the point of voter ID laws? It seems these restrictions are meant to make it a bit harder for a certain type of person to vote.

"We cut Obama by 5 percent," Robert Gleason, Pennsylvania Republican Party chair, said after the 2012 election. "He beat McCain by 10 percent. He only beat Romney by 5 percent. I think that probably voter ID helped a bit in that."

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