Since the 2000 electoral mess, Republicans have advocated increased restrictions on voting. No official has been more vocal about this than former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. This year, led by President Trump, Republicans are sounding the alarm about possible fraud, given the large number of mail-in and absentee ballots. Democrats counter that Republican attempts to crack down are not based on fraud but rather suppression. They see an attempt to stop people from voting — specifically, people who tend to vote Democratic. Who’s right and why?
Documented cases of fraud are exceedingly rare. For example, Justin Levitt of Loyola-Marymount Law School found that that heavily-investigated elections had fraud rates between 0.0003 and 0.0025% — absolutely miniscule numbers. Here in Kansas, Kobach’s eight-year quest to root out fraud generated fewer than 20 prosecutions. Not one of this tiny number had knowingly committed fraud, none were illegal immigrants, and several were Republicans.
Democratic alarms about voter suppression may be exaggerations too. In a forthcoming book, my colleagues and I find that in general, suppressive voting laws like Photo ID and proof of citizenship (the latter now unenforceable due to court rulings) lower voter turnout by roughly 2% — more in some cases, less in others. Republican voters are as likely to be turned away as Democrats. The rancor is based on a presumption that higher voter turnout benefits Democrats, while lower turnout benefits Republicans, and it just is not true. The same holds for measures to increase turnout. A team of researchers from Stanford University recently studied states holding their elections by mail. Their review of California, Washington state and Utah found that turnout increased by about 2%. Neither party benefitted from this increase.
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