At his last news conference before leaving office, President Obama on Wednesday disparaged efforts to ensure that voters are eligible to cast ballots.
“We are the only country in the advanced world that makes it harder to vote, rather than easier,” he said, a veiled reference to voter identification laws. “And that dates back. There’s an ugly history to that … It traces directly back to Jim Crow and the legacy of slavery.”
“And that dates back. There’s an ugly history to that … It traces directly back to Jim Crow and the legacy of slavery.”
It is not remotely true, according to elections experts.
“It’s a complete and total lie,” said Hans von Spakofsky, manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at The Heritage Foundation. “Every Western democracy requires ID — even South Africa … The exact opposite of what he said is true.”
In recent years, the United States and the United Kingdom have been among the only democracies on the planet with no uniform requirements that voters prove their identity at the polls. In Britain, only voters in Northern Ireland have been required to do so.
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But last month, the Parliament approved a pilot program to require a driver’s license, passport or other approved ID at 18 different areas across England for local elections in 2018. After that, it could be expanded throughout the whole U.K.
Foreign Elections Officials Shocked
Foreign elections officials, in fact, often express surprise at how loosey-goosey the world’s longest continually operating democracy is.
Nuri Elabbar, who was among observers from 60 different countries who toured the United States during the 2012 presidential election under the auspices of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, told Foreign Affairs magazine that the American system would not work in most nations.
“It’s very difficult to transfer this system as it is to any other country,” said Elabhar, who was head of Libya’s national election commission. “This system is built according to trust, and this trust needs a lot of procedures and a lot of education for other countries to adopt it.”
Members of the delegation specifically cited the lack of voter ID laws in many U.S. states as a key difference between America and their countries. They also expressed surprise that American voters can cast ballots by mail and that elections officials often have no way to verify that a voter has not cast a ballot in a different precinct under a different name. In many Arab countries, officials mark voters’ fingers with ink blots to designate they have voted.
Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for the Public Interest Legal Foundation, said both of America’s immediate neighbors have tougher voter-integrity laws. In Mexico, he said, voters have to prove they are registered with a photo ID, as well as provide proof of residency.
The government of Mexico, through the Instituto Nacional Electoral agency, issues every Mexican voter a photo identification.
“No ID, no vote in Mexico,” Churchwell said.
Canada, meanwhile, requires voters to present one form of approved photo ID — such as a driver’s license or provincial ID card — or two forms of non-photo ID. According to Elections Canada, if the identification presented does not have the voter’s home address, he or she must have another registered voter from the same polling division attest to his or her identity.
Since 1997, the National Register of Electors has maintained a continually updated database of Canadians who are qualified to vote. The database contains the name, address, gender and date of birth of each voter — as well as a unique identifier to help track changes.
“And that’s just NAFTA,” Churchwell said, referring to America’s trading partners under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Greek Official Perplexed by U.S.
Project Veritas demonstrated how voter ID works in Greece in an undercover video released in 2015. James O’Keefe, the group’s founder, showed up at a Greek polling station to see if he could vote in a referendum to determine whether the country should accept austerity measures. A poll worker told him that, “of course,” he needed to show ID.
The poll worker referred him to a supervisor, who told him, “It is only for Greek citizens. You cannot vote … Furthermore, you have to [be] written in this catalog in order to vote.”
She was incredulous when O’Keefe told her that many polling places in America do not require voters to show ID.
“And how [do] they know that you are the one you say you are?” she asked.
O’Keefe’s experience in Greece contrasts sharply with videos Project Vertitas made showing undercover journalists successfully obtaining ballots in the name of rapper Eminem, Hillary Clinton confidante Huma Abedin, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, and various politicians. O’Keefe also showed poll monitors appearing less than enthusiastic about reporting possible fraud in Chicago.
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The reason all these countries require voters to show ID — a requirement that appears perfectly uncontroversial in most countries outside of the United States and Britain — is to combat fraud. Obama on Wednesday dismissed such concerns as a myth.
“This is something that constantly has been disproved,” the president said. “This is fake news.”
But researchers have presented compelling statistics evidence that at least some non-citizens have cast ballots in recent elections. The Public Interest Legal Foundation has documented actual cases of illegal votes in Philadelphia, Virginia, and other places.
And The Heritage Foundation maintains a database of voter fraud prosecutions numbering 462 cases and 742 convictions. Critics of photo ID requirements argue that it is effective only in stopping in-person voter impersonation, which is exceedingly rare.
But von Spakofsky, the Heritage scholar, said that states like Kansas, Alabama, and Wisconsin require a copy of a photo ID for absentee balloting, as well. And there are “many, many cases of proven absentee voter fraud,” he said.