In 22 states across the country, Republican lawmakers are ginning up the specter of voter fraud to pass highly restrictive photo identification laws that would severely restrict the voting rights of millions. But yesterday, the Republicans in the Ohio House secured passage of “what could become the nation’s most restrictive voter identification law.”
In just eight days, House Republicans hustled through HB 159, a bill that would require voters to show one of five forms of ID to vote in person: an Ohio driver’s license, state ID, military ID, U.S. passport, or “a new, free photo ID that State Bureau of Motor Vehicles would dispense to indigent citizens who qualify.” Currently, voters must show a photo ID or present a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or government document with a current name and address. Unlike other states’ photo ID laws, HB 159 would not even allow students to use IDs issued by state colleges.
The bill sponsor, state Rep. Bob Mecklenborg (R) “said the bill is necessary to combat voter fraud and the perception of fraud.” But after failing to produce any actual evidence of such voter fraud, Meklenborg defended his theory with the inexorable proof that “I believe it happens” and “it’s impossible to prove a negative”:
While Republicans produced no evidence of voter fraud from impersonation, Mecklenborg and other GOP leaders say they believe it is going on unreported. “I believe it happens, but it’s proving a negative,” Mecklenborg told reporters after the vote. “It’s impossible to prove a negative. How do you prove that fraud doesn’t exist there?”However, Cuyahoga County Board of Elections head Jane Platten, a Democrat, said she has never seen a case of voter impersonation in the seven years she has been with the local elections board.
Despite his belief, representatives from the Board of Elections, the League of Women Voters, and the former Secretary of State office “have never even heard of one” instance of voter impersonation in Ohio. As the Brennan Center for Justice notes, a statewide survey found four instances of ineligible persons voting or attempting to vote in 2002 and 2004 out of 9,078,728 votes case — “a rate of 0.00004%.”
However, bills like HB 159 stands to severely restrict or exclude millions (at least 12%) of America’s voting population, most notably seniors, the disabled, low-income voters, students, and people of color. As Ohio Democrats noted, an estimated 890,000 voting age Ohioans do not currently have a government-issued photo ID, including significant numbers of blacks and people older than 65.” What’s more, the GOP bill would actually cost the state “up to $20 million to implement.”
The Toledo Blade called the bill a “ruse” that’s “true intent seems to be to make it harder for some Ohioans to vote” and is “correctly” called “the 21st-century equivalent of a poll tax.” “If [the bill] were supported by any evidence of election-day fraud, then I could understand the legitimacy of our conversation,” said Rep. Dennis Murray (D-OH). “But the complete absence of evidence means the legislation is gasoline on the fire of elitist prejudice.” The bill now heads to the GOP-led Ohio Senate.
Yesterday, the Texas House passed a similarly restrictive voter ID bill to “curb voter fraud.” Noting that there has been “just one case of convicted voter impersonation” since 2002, House Democrats argued that the bill is “about disenfranchising groups of people who do not historically vote for the Republican Party” — such as “minorities and the elderly.” Though Democrats managed to kill voter ID legislation the past two sessions, the bill passed 101–48. Both chambers “were tasked by Gov. Rick Perry with making voter ID legislation a priority.”