First, the Photo ID Voting Law was put in place because states wished to decrease voting fraud, right? If not, please explain to me why it was implemented. I think I did well enough research but there's a good chance I'm wrong.

Also, if the Photo ID voting law was in place for decreasing voter fraud, is it working? If it is, how well? Statistics please. I can't seem to find the answer I'm looking for.


4 Answers 4


the Photo ID Voting Law was put in place because states wished to decrease voting fraud, right?

That is the stated reason, yes.

However, in-person voter fraud (the only fraud that would be caught by voter id laws) is essentially non-existent. There were 18 confirmed cases between 2002 and 2012 in Texas.

The 5th circuit appeals court found that the Texas law (SB14) specifically discriminates against minorities (see also here).

A federal court found that a similar law in North Carolina "target[s] African Americans with almost surgical precision". It also found:

In particular, the court found that North Carolina lawmakers requested data on racial differences in voting behaviors in the state [...]
"With race data in hand, the legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans," the judges wrote. "The bill retained only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess."

Similar accusations were made against the Texas bill:

The Justice Department argued that “a wealth of evidence” suggests that lawmakers consciously discriminated

The reasons given by the Justice Department are among others:

  • the inevitable discriminatory impact of the law (Hispanics are 195%, Black people 305% more likely to not fulfill the strict id requirements than white people; while free ids may be provided, they are difficult to get, especially - and seemingly purposefully - for minorities)
  • statements by lawmakers which said that they knew that the law will have a discriminatory impact
  • the fact that the law was purposefully designed to not reduce that impact
  • the fact that the law will have little or no impact on voter fraud (eg absentee voting - which is more susceptible to fraud and favored by white voters - was not changed)
  • a history of voter discrimination and invalid voter fraud claims

Some lawmakers have also directly stated that the goal of voter id laws is not to fight (practically non-existent) voter fraud, but to discriminate against minorities who are unlikely to vote for them:

A handful of the GOP Senators were giddy about the ramifications and literally singled out the prospects of suppressing minority and college voters.

  • 11
    Citing the number of cases as proving the lack of incidence is begging the question. Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 22:43
  • 9
    @chrylis less than two cases a year is pretty negligible considering the population of Texas.
    – tim
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 22:50
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    @chrylis yes, it begs the question why people still use voting fraud as an excuse as they can't prove it's a problem.
    – user1530
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 23:25
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    @PlasmaHH There could. There could be millions or billions, who knows. The thing is that one should have at least some evidence when disenfranchising a considerable amount of people, especially when the potential fraud seems unlikely (there is little benefit, one needs at least some identification to vote even without the law, and one needs to hope that the registered person does not show up). And one should try not to specifically target a certain group of people - a group that is unlikely to vote as one would like, and a group which has historically been targeted by similar measures.
    – tim
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 13:16
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    @PlasmaHH It's not an argument against IDs per se, it's an argument against an argument for IDs. Some people claim - without any proof - that there are millions of cases. The only data we have are the known cases though, and it's important to work with known facts, not with assumptions without any underlying evidence. Based on the facts, we know that there is more fraud in absentee voting than in in-person voting (this isn't surprising either). If one genuinely wants to fight fraud, it would make sense to start where there is a larger - although still not that serious - issue.
    – tim
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 13:52

Also, if the Photo ID voting law was in place for decreasing voter fraud, is it working? If it is, how well? Statistics please. I can't seem to find the answer I'm looking for.

The problem is that without the law, there is no way to detect the fraud unless people vote twice as the same person. With the law, people aren't allowed to vote without ID matching the voting registration, so there is no fraud. Either way, there's very little or no statistical proof that fraud has been reduced.

The typical story after the law is that someone shows up, gets asked for ID. They can either produce it or say that they don't have it with them. If they say they don't have it, they leave and nothing is recorded. If they produce it, the electors look for a matching registration. If there is one, they check if that person has voted. If the person had already voted, they'd send the person away and nothing is recorded. If the person has not voted, they'd let the person vote. If there is no registration, they might give the person a provisional ballot. If the ID doesn't match the current location, they'd send the person to the correct location and nothing would be recorded.

Unless the person fills out a provisional ballot in one location and votes regularly in another location, nothing is recorded that looks like fraud. And provisional ballots clashing with actual ballots normally isn't counted as fraud but as user error.

Under the system without the ID check, if the person can describe the registration properly, the person is allowed to vote if that registration hasn't already voted. There is only a clash if someone has already used the registration to vote. Or if someone later uses the registration to vote. That's the only time that fraud would have been detected. If there is no clash, then there is no evidence of fraud. Successful frauds will not be detected, only unsuccessful ones.

It is much easier to prevent fraud before it happens than detect it after. The only way to detect fraud after the election is to prove that the registration wasn't valid at the time of the election. So if the person on the registration was dead, a felon, or a non-citizen, that registration could be noticed afterward. If the registration is for someone who is eligible to vote but doesn't actually vote, that would never be seen in any statistics if someone else cast that vote fraudulently.

  • 12
    If the reason was really fraud prevention, why is a license to carry a concealed gun valid, but a student id not? Both should be perfectly capable of preventing fraud that may (or may not) exist.
    – tim
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 21:43
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    @tim State-school IDs are not held to anything resembling formal standards; there's at least one I know of where I could just walk in, and the printer's unattended. They almost never have residency information printed. And then you're just making things up--states don't issue ham licenses, FCC ham licenses don't have photos, and press passes are done in a distributed manner. All general-purpose state ID cards go through the DPS. (In the case of an LTC specifically, it requires another state ID already and uses the same picture and vital information from it.) Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 23:09
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    This is just false. You don't need the law to track the problem--if indeed there was one. Regardless, this ignores the much bigger point that in-person voter fraud is a ridiculous concept. No one is going to sway elections by having people drive one-by-one to different districts to cast one vote under the guise of some person that they hope doesn't show up to cast their own vote. Given that republicans have explicitly stated that they push for these laws to disenfranchise voters, arguing otherwise is just disingenuous.
    – user1530
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 23:28
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    It's been widely repeated that the rarity of detected fraud implies that actual fraud is rare, but what basis is there for estimating the fraction of fraud that is detected? If 10% of fraud is detected, that would imply that actual fraud is rare. If 0.0001% of fraud is detected, it could be quite common. Establishing that any fraud that was attempted would likely be caught would seem to have value, whether or not any fraud was actually attempted.
    – supercat
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 0:19
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    The idea that significant numbers of people would commit a felony to get an extra vote or two is a pretty extraordinary claim that requires some decent proof to support.
    – ceejayoz
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 3:33

The other answers seem unnecessarily focused on racial discrimination. It is perhaps more useful to focus on class distinctions and a bias for sensational anecdotes.

People should have to prove who they are when they vote in order to maintain democratic equality, i.e. one person one vote. What could be wrong that? A surprising amount.

Voter fraud, as pointed out in the other answers is rare, but it is also easy to imagine. In other words, it has availability (in a heuristic sense) and any actual incidents (irregardless of probability) serve as confirmation (bias) that voter fraud is a problem that needs solving.

As for the discrimination aspect, a useful analogy is perhaps anti-smoking laws. They are not explicitly classist, they are about public health. But their effect is entirely classist, because the vast majority of smokers in the US are found in a particular socio-economic group. Does that make them discriminatory? Depends on whether you define such by intention or effect.

Likewise, voter-id laws are probably not intentionally discriminatory (although pretending so apparently makes for a good news story) but they place a burden disproportionately on underclass persons, irrespective of those intentions of the authors/voters.

This whole business is another one of those semantic debates. Person A says that discrimination is about intent and thus the laws are not discriminatory. Person B says that discrimination is about effect and thus they are. When you pile that on top of cognitive bias and implicit class prejudice ("of course everyone can get to and wait in line 2 hrs at the DMV in the middle of the day") you get all this mess.

  • 7
    The North Carolina law was intentionally discriminatory. Regarding the Texas law, there is no hard proof that lawmakers went out to discriminate (although that too is a fair assumption), but they did know that the law would have a discriminatory effect and they decided not to do anything about it. I agree though that it is not only a race issue, but also a class issue.
    – tim
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 17:18
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    Once states make it free and easy to get the required ID, then Voter ID laws stop being a form of illegal poll tax. If you have to spend hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours off work to get the required ID, it becomes a challenge.
    – arp
    Commented Mar 11, 2017 at 17:05
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    A good attempt but simply incorrect. These laws have been shown to be explicitly discriminatory. They are intentionally discriminating. Same thing is happening with jerrymandering: motherjones.com/politics/2017/03/…
    – user1530
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 22:41
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    @blip of course some of the laws are intentionally discriminatory. The part I object to (and I apparently didn't make this clear enough) is that one cannot assume intentionality on the part of the authors: it is entirely possible to create legislation in good faith that is discriminatory in its effect (again, anti-smoking laws). Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 12:55
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    @jaredsmith in general, that is true. But that's not what happened with these particular laws.
    – user1530
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 16:21

There has practically not been any cases of voter-fraud, so at best this is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. Yes, supposedly some dead people have voted, a study done by the DMV in South-Carolina is often cited - but that turned out to be people with family-names eg. a son with the same name as his father... and on a few occation, absentee-voters who died between casting their abesntee-vote and the election. Washington Post, NPR, ThinkProgress

There have also be cases where Republican politician have admitted on camera to why they want these laws, because some groups - like poor blacks - are unlikely to have them, and because these groups usually vote for Democrats.

You should be able to prove who you are when you register to vote - not when you're actually voting.

Besides, it's a pretty bu..-sh.. way of influencing the election; standing in line for hours, to cast maybe one or two extra votes - which probably aren't going to influence anything anyway... and risk a huge fine.

Jon Oliver at Last Week Tonight had an episode about this "problem"... you should check it out:



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