THE BLOG

New Evidence Shows Voters Aren't Chilled By Fraud Fears

Jun 17, 2008 | Updated May 25, 2011

When was the last time you talked to someone who said, "I'd vote, except I think too many people are impersonating people they aren't, and my confidence in the system is undermined," or "I'd vote, but illegal aliens are showing up without proof of citizenship at the polls and getting through the cracks--its just not worth it anymore."

Litigators defending voter ID systems have done so arguing that this conversation happens on a widespread enough scale to undermine "the integrity of the system," justifying burdensome voter ID laws. They have to depend on people's perceptions, because there's no evidence that actual voter impersonation is happening in any meaningful way.

This is a serious argument. In dicta in 2006, the Supreme Court wrote that: "Voter fraud drives honest citizens out of the democratic process. Voters who fear their legitimate votes will be outweighed by fraudulent ones will feel disenfranchised." This signaled to litigators that they should defend voter ID laws on the grounds that lack thereof is chasing citizens out of the system.

Great new research by Stephen Ansolabehere and Nate Persily puts the lie to any credible claim that voters are dissuaded by fears of voter impersonation fraud. Their survey research showed that while a substantial fraction of Americans believe that some voters vote who should not, and a smaller fraction (about 9%) believe that voter impersonation is common, there is no evidence that these beliefs influence their own behavior. Moreover, they found no evidence that stronger voter ID laws led to greater confidence in the system:

The data demonstrate no relationship between either individual level or aggregate rates of voter identification and perception of fraud. The correlations between beliefs about Voter Fraud and Vote Theft and the incidence of voter identification are very small and statistically indistinguishable from zero in both samples. In the 2007 survey, the correlations between an individual's showing identification in 2006 and belief in Voter Fraud and Vote Theft were -.01 and .03, respectively. In the same survey, the correlation between the percentage of people in a state asked to show voter identification and belief in Voter Fraud and Vote Theft were .03 and .05, respectively. And in the 2008 survey, the correlations between the percentage of people in a state asked to show voter identification and beliefs in Voter Fraud and Voter Impersonation were -.02 and -.04, respectively. As the regressions presented in Table 4 and Appendix E explain, holding constant education, party identification, ideology, race, age, and other predictors did not improve matters. In none of the regressions do the measures of the incidence of the use of voter identification exhibit any significant relationship to any of the measures of beliefs about vote fraud. The strongest association arises with Impersonation, and the coefficient has the wrong sign (meaning that those subjected to photo ID requirements believe, if anything, that fraud is more prevalent). Whether the state or local election administration frequently asks for voter identification or not seems to have no relationship to individuals' beliefs about the frequency of Fraud or Impersonation.

In-person voter ID laws chill voting. There's no reason to think they are necessary for in-person fraud, because the fraud just isn't happening. But this evidence makes it all the more important to resist the state-by-state effort to add hurdles to the most basic democratic right.