Does voter fraud justify voter ID laws? Yahoo News Explains

Voter fraud: two words that have sparked some of America’s most intense behind-the-scenes political battles over the past two decades. Yahoo News Senior Political Correspondent Jon Ward explains what voter fraud actually means — and why voter ID laws meant to protect against it may actually do more harm than good.

Video Transcript

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- Voter fraud.

TUCKER CARLSON: Voter fraud.

DAVID MUIR: Voter fraud.

- Voter fraud.

STUART VARNEY: Voter fraud.

JON WARD: Voter fraud, two words that have sparked some of America's most intense behind-the-scenes political battles over the last two decades. What is it, how common is it, and how much does it impact American politics? Voter fraud generally refers to when a voter tries to cast a ballot when they shouldn't. This could be voting more than once or voting in someone else's name or voting when the law says you can't. Also, intent matters. Fraud only occurs when someone knowingly breaks the rules.

President Trump talks about voter fraud a lot. He claims he would have won the popular vote in 2016 if not for millions of illegal votes. That's false. But before we get to that, a little history.

After George W. Bush was elected president in 2000, Republicans made voter fraud a big priority. Bush's Attorney General John Ashcroft turned the focus of the Justice Department away from preventing voter suppression under the 1965 Civil Rights Act and made voter fraud and election fraud a top agenda item. 20% to 30% of Americans believe voter fraud is a major problem, but there is a large body of evidence that individuals rarely vote illegally.

Even a database of fraud cases compiled by the most outspoken proponents for the idea that voter fraud is a major problem at The Heritage Foundation found only 80 cases of double voting over the course of the last several decades. That Heritage database, in fact, is one of the best resources to demonstrate the rarity of voter fraud and election fraud, but the threat of voter fraud has been used for the last 10 to 20 years to make it harder to vote in many states.

Voter ID laws in, particular which are now enforced in 34 states, have been one major focus of Republicans. Rick Hasen, a law professor at UC Irvine and one of the top experts on the issue of voting, has called the top proponents of the voter fraud threat hucksters who are providing fake scholarly support for the notion of a widespread problem. Hasen's criticism gained a lot of evidence in a 2018 trial featuring two of the main advocates for voter fraud as a huge problem-- Kris Kobach, then the secretary of state in Kansas, who's now running this year for the US senate, and Hans von Spakovsky, who is the creator of the Heritage database. Both men worked under Ashcroft in the Bush Justice Department in the early 2000s, and they have spent years arguing that strict voter ID, even birth certificates or passports, are needed to prevent voter fraud. It's Kobach, in fact, who appears to have convinced Trump to make wild claims that millions of undocumented immigrants voted in 2016.

- Do you believe Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 to 5 million votes--

KRIS KOBACH: You know, we may never know the answer to that.

- --because of voter fraud?

KRIS KOBACH: We will probably never know the answer to that.

JON WARD: But when the ACLU sued Kobach and he was forced to present evidence in a court of law, he could only offer proof less than 40 non-citizens attempting to vote over a 20-year period in one of Kansas's biggest counties. Most of those were the result of confusion or error, and only five of those 40 people actually voted. Von Spakovsky was called to testify and was exposed for having persisted in publishing columns with false information multiple times. The judge in the trial, an appointee of George W. Bush, held Kobach in contempt of court. She dismissed Kobach's study as misleading and overturned the law pushed by Kobach, finding that it had disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters.

There are always trade-offs when balancing access to the voting booth and security and integrity of elections, but the voter ID requirements have likely prevented far more Americans from voting than they have from voting illegally. Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights pioneer, put it this way, the voter ID requirements have been a cure where there is no sickness.

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