Crawford -- Just the Facts II

In the past, we've analyzed press reports on alleged instances of voter fraud, and found reason to question some of the conclusions. In a post moments ago, we questioned the Supreme Court's devotion to accurate factual reporting....

April 30, 2008

In the past, we've analyzed press reports on alleged instances of voter fraud, and found reason to question some of the conclusions. In a post moments ago, we questioned the Supreme Court's devotion to accurate factual reporting, in a decision that otherwise accurately characterized flawed press reports. And now, we come full circle, finding factual inaccuracies in the press around the Supreme Court's decision itself. Whew.

Most of the damage is confined to editorials and columnists — and, fortunately, some pieces are far more careful than others. Still, there are some opinions floating around that are dangerously unhinged from fact.

Let's start with the most common myths and misstatements. 

An editorial repeats the misconception that Indiana is the norm: "in 20 states, some form of photo identification is necessary before voting." Another report claims that "about 25 states" have laws like Indiana's. Wrong. The real number is 3: Indiana, Georgia, and Florida—and in Florida, your ballot will still count even if you don't have photo ID. The photo ID states are the real outliers here.

A columnist parrots the misconception that photo ID is required for all sorts of daily activities: "Here are just a few activities that require identification: alcohol and tobacco purchases, boarding an airline, entrance to a casino, senior discounts at retail stores, check cashing, passport purchase, border crossings, prescription purchases, and, in some instances, the use of a credit card to make a retail purchase." Not if he's talking about photo ID, they don't. Giving credit for the accurate responses (border crossings, some credit card purchases), and a very generous half-credit for the responses that are only accurate some of the time (alcohol and tobacco, casino, senior discounts, check cashing, prescription purchases), he ends up with a 50%. In my school, that got an F.

A report furthers the misconception that "lawyers challenging the law didn't produce a single voter injured by it." Not true. In part because the law was challenged before it went into effect, there was no testimony in the official record from voters who had already been prevented from voting. But there was evidence of several voters without valid ID who would have difficulty obtaining that ID.  And since the law went into effect, papers submitted to the Supreme Court shows that in one county alone, dozens of voters in the 2007 off-year municipal election cast ballots that could not be counted solely because of the photo ID law.

And then there's Hans von Spakovsky. You can't blame the reporting here: they just quote him. But his assertion that the Crawford decision "confirms the validity of photo ID laws" is as wrong as his claim that the decision vindicates the DOJ for approving Georgia's 2005 ID law. The Court case didn't say photo ID laws were OK: it said that there wasn't enough evidence in this particular case—which was brought before the law ever went into effect—to strike the law down. While it may now be harder to get the proof necessary, future ID laws that disenfranchise vulnerable populations are as constitutionally suspect as they ever were.

And the Court certainly didn't say that the DOJ was right to approve Georgia's law in 2005. Crawford addressed an Indiana law under the Constitution; the DOJ addressed a Georgia law under the Voting Rights Act. Different laws, different standards, different analysis. The only similarity is that both results were wrong.