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Sophie Austin
By Sophie Austin June 21, 2019

No, the only reason to oppose voter ID laws isn’t because 'you plan to cheat'

A viral image on Facebook insinuates that Democrats in Congress oppose voter ID laws because they want to cheat to win votes.

The post is an image of a tweet that reads: "Two Facts: 1. The only valid reason to oppose voter ID is that you plan to cheat. 2. Every Democrat in Congress opposes voter ID. What more do you need to know about the party?"

The initial tweet was published by a Twitter user who goes by the name of "Philip Schuyler" and describes himself in the Twitter bio simply as a "Supporter of President Trump." (Philip Schuyler, we should note, is the same name as a general in the American Revolution who went on to become a U.S. senator from New York.) A Facebook page called "Taking Back America," which posts and shares content promoting President Donald Trump, posted a photo of the Philip Schuyler tweet.

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

So does this post provide an accurate overview of the anti-voter ID stance and the Democrats who support it? Not really. A little reporting shows it’s far more complex than this statement suggests. And, the issue has become politically polarized, with a major elections bill drawing a strictly party-line vote.

Why do people support and oppose voter ID laws?

Some of the main reasons people support voter ID laws are to prevent voter fraud and "to ensure that elections have the integrity and security that they deserve," said Jason Snead, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that supports voter ID laws, in an interview with PolitiFact.

It’s a popular stance: Around three quarters of Americans favored requiring all voters to show government-issued photo IDs, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center pre-election survey.

Snead cited a recent North Carolina ballot fraud case in which political operatives were indicted for allegedly illegally collecting ballots from people who requested to cast an absentee vote by mail. However, Republican efforts to require voter ID would not have stopped the incident because it did not involve voter impersonation at the polls.

Research shows that voter fraud is uncommon in American elections. An investigation conducted by Loyola Law School, Los Angeles professor Justin Levitt found 31 credible incidents of voter fraud in over 1 billion ballots cast during general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014.

"The reason to oppose voter ID laws – specific and unduly restrictive ID laws, not all laws across the board – is when they unnecessarily limit the ways that people can prove that they are who they say they are, down to a few forms of documentation that can be quite difficult for real eligible voters to obtain," Levitt told PolitiFact in an email.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law looked into which demographics of citizens strict voter ID laws might impact the most, by studying who has a valid government-issued photo ID. The center supports and helped craft HR 1, the "For the People Act of 2019," which aims to change campaign financing, end partisan gerrymandering and make it easier for citizens to vote. The bill passed in the House in March 2019.

Featured Fact-check

In 2006, the Brennan Center commissioned a survey that found that an estimated 21 million voting-age U.S. citizens didn’t have government-issued photo IDs. Of those 21 million, 15% of citizens who earned less than $35,000 a year, 18% age 65 or older, and 25% of African Americans didn’t have a current government-issued photo ID.

Do all Democrats in Congress oppose voter ID laws?

The 2016 Democratic Party platform, which is revised by party members every four years, states, "We will continue to fight against discriminatory voter identification laws, which disproportionately burden young voters, diverse communities, people of color, low-income families, people with disabilities, the elderly, and women."

In January 2019, congressional Democrats introduced HR 1, which could weaken states’ voter ID laws. For example, it could allow citizens in states that require voters to present government-issued photo IDs before casting ballots in federal elections to instead hand over a signed written statement, under the penalty of perjury, confirming their identity and eligibility to vote.

No House Democrat voted against the bill, and no Republican voted in favor. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to bring it to a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.

So while it appears, based on this piece of legislation, that Democrats in Congress do favor measures to loosen restrictive voter ID laws, it’s important to note that the voter ID section is just one part of the bill. Because voter ID laws vary in their restrictiveness, the position that individual Democratic lawmakers take may vary according to the particular policy under consideration.

Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama, for example, in describing her effort to re-establish the Voting Rights Act earlier this year, noted in an interview with The Atlantic that before her father, who was wheelchair-bound, died in 2017, he "didn’t have a driver’s license but he had been voting — until Alabama changed its law in 2014 — with a validly issued federal ID called a Social Security card."

Some states have "strict" voter ID laws, meaning citizens in those states who don’t have valid IDs must vote on a provisional ballot and take additional steps to ensure their vote is counted, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

There are conflicting studies on whether strict voter ID laws significantly impact the outcome of an election.

Our ruling

The Facebook post said, "Two Facts: 1. The only valid reason to oppose voter ID is that you plan to cheat. 2. Every Democrat in Congress opposes voter ID. What more do you need to know about the party?"

Critics of voter ID laws often defend their position by stating that not every voting-age citizen possesses a valid government-issued photo ID, and these laws disproportionately impact some more than others, including citizens of color and citizens 65 and older. Concern that more people are able to vote does not amount to an interest in cheating.

While it is difficult to verify whether every congressional Democrat opposes voter ID laws of all kinds, we do know that every House Democrat who voted on HR 1, which could weaken voter ID laws, supported the bill. However, it’s important to remember that this was one aspect of a far-reaching bill.

This claim contains an element of truth but distorts many critical details. We rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Facebook post, June 10, 2019

Tweet by "Philip Schuyler," June 9, 2019

Encyclopedia Britannica, Philip John Schulyer, United States Statesman, accessed June 19, 2019, H.R. 1 - For the People Act of 2019, accessed June 12, 2019

govtrack, H.R. 1 - For the People Act of 2019, accessed June 12, 2019

Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens Without Proof, Nov. 2006

National Conference of State Legislatures, Voter Identification Requirements | Voter ID Laws, Jan. 17, 2019

Washington Post, Do voter identification laws suppress minority voting? Yes. We did the research., Feb. 15, 2017

Stanford, Comment on "Voter Identification Laws and the Suppression of Minority Votes," Aug. 7, 2017

Phone interview with Jason Snead, senior policy analyst, Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, Institute for Constitutional Government at The Heritage Foundation, June 13, 2019

Washington Post, A comprehensive investigation of voter impersonation finds 31 credible incidents out of one billion ballots cast, Aug. 6, 2014

PolitiFact, Donald Trump says there’s ‘substantial evidence of voter fraud.’ There isn’t, Jan. 4, 2018

Pew Research Center, How Americans view some of the voting policies approved at the ballot box, Nov. 15, 2018

PolitiFact, McConnell falsely suggests GOP forecast the type of election fraud found in NC, March, 7, 2019

The News & Observer, 5 were indicted in alleged ballot fraud scheme. Now all have been arrested., March 5, 2019

Associated Press News, AP FACT CHECK: McConnell’s misleading spin on voting fraud, Feb. 27, 2019

Brennan Center for Justice, H.R. 1: These Reforms Would Strengthen Our Democracy, Feb. 15, 2019, The 2016 Democratic Platform, 2016

PolitiFact, House Democrats and HR 1: Voting rights expansion or federal power grab?, Feb. 8, 2019

Politico, McConnell won’t allow vote on election reform bill, March 6, 2019

The Atlantic, The Democrats’ New Voting-Rights Movement, March 2, 2019

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No, the only reason to oppose voter ID laws isn’t because 'you plan to cheat'

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