The Union Leader, New Hampshire's most-read newspaper, published an editorial yesterday urging the state House of Representatives and the Governor to approve SB 289, a bill passed by the state senate that would require voters to show photo identification in order to cast a ballot. SB 289, the Union Leader editors argued, is necessary to protect the integrity of New Hampshire's electoral results from the corrupting danger of rampant voter fraud. Their evidence? The work of discredited liar and undercover videographer James O'Keefe, whose attempted investigation of "voter fraud" in New Hampshire last January drew rebukes from election law experts who believed his scheme may have broken the law.
The Union Leader wrote:
Last year, Gov. John Lynch vetoed a voter ID bill, proclaiming, "There is no voter fraud problem in New Hampshire." This year he cannot make that claim with a straight face. The Project Veritas sting on Primary Day in January showed how easy it is to obtain a ballot fraudulently in New Hampshire.
Project Veritas, which is run by O'Keefe, is a surprising source for a mainstream publication to cite, given his history of lies, deception and hyper-partisanship. More importantly, O'Keefe's "sting" in New Hampshire didn't come close to establishing that voter fraud has been committed in New Hampshire at all, much less on any scale that would affect the outcome of an election.
In fact, the specter of a voter fraud epidemic is largely a figment of right-wing imagination. In a 2007 report, NYU's Brennan Center for Justice found that allegations of widespread voter fraud are often exaggerated and that many claims of voter fraud "simply do not pan out." According to the Justice Department, prosecutions for voter fraud are generally few and far between. Even conservative commentator and voter ID proponent Hans von Spakovsky has admitted that there is no "massive fraud in American elections."
Voter ID laws do, however, have the potential to strip fundamental constitutional rights away from many otherwise eligible citizens, especially students, the elderly, and racial minorities. The Brennan Center estimates voter ID laws could exclude millions of eligible voters:
Ahead of the 2012 elections, a wave of legislation tightening restrictions on voting has suddenly swept across the country. More than 5 million Americans could be affected by the new rules already put in place this year -- a number larger than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections.
Unfortunately, the Union Leader -- and legislators in New Hampshire -- are arguing over how strict the law should be, not whether requiring photo identification is a bad idea for the people of New Hampshire.