Let's Tell the Truth About Voter ID Laws

In 2014, a Washington Post article declared that voter fraud was largely a myth. Citing several exhaustive studies, the rate of voter fraud was infinitesimal. A court ruling in Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker recently enacted Voter ID laws stated, "The evidence at trial established that virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin. The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past."

If voter fraud is virtually non-existent, then what is the true benefit of Voter ID laws, and why are governors like Walker so invested in them? The answer, in my opinion, goes beyond a Republican desire to cut off voters that lean Democratic.

The facts that aren't being talked about are the ones that matter most.

  1. 1) Voter ID's are usually processed through the Department of Motor Vehicles, making the voter's current address public information; available to law enforcement and creditors.

  • 2) Poor and minority people have a disproportionate number of warrants for their arrest. In a study of Ferguson, Missouri a whopping 16,000 out of 21,000 residents had an outstanding warrant, often for unpaid fines.
  • 3) Experian, the credit reporting agency, estimates that 30% of Americans have "bad credit." This number skyrockets for the poor, leaving them vulnerable to collection agencies, civil judgments, and wage garnishments.
  • Voter ID laws are not meant to save the nation from the imagined blight of voter fraud. They are meant to benefit the coffers of law enforcement, who can go after poor voters for unpaid fines, and they are a boon to collection agencies, who can attempt to collect on old debts with added interest.

    Bernie Sanders said, "Poor people don't vote." Politifact rated his comment "Mostly True." 68.5% of poor people did not vote in 2014. It would seem that beyond the cost of birth certificates or other documentation, there are other, more punitive effects to Voter ID laws that are giving poor people pause. The cycle of poverty is brutal. Jail time for unpaid fines and wage garnishments play a huge role in that cycle.

    These are the truths we're not talking about when it comes to Voter ID laws. The price of "voting while poor" may just be a knock at the door, an arrest, or a notice that low wages are going to be garnished.