Voting Rights-The South

An expert witness testified Wednesday in a suit challenging Virginia’s photo ID law that there is no evidence voter fraud is a rational justification for such a requirement in Virginia or any other state.

Lorraine C. Minnite, author of “The Myth of Voter Fraud” and co-author of “Keeping Down the Black Vote: Race and the Demobilization of American Voters,” said the sort of fraud that photo ID is meant to prevent is so uncommon there is a concern it would cause more legitimate ballots to be lost than fraudulent ballots cast.

“If there is no voter fraud, the question is, what is this all about? ... Why are the two parties fighting so intensely?” asked Minnite, a witness for the plaintiffs, including the Democratic Party of Virginia. Minnite contends parties can win by expanding their own base or by decreasing the other party’s.

“It goes to the logic and the strategy of trying to win elections,” she said.

Minnite was on the stand at the end of the third day of the trial in Richmond before U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson. Democrats and two other plaintiffs allege, among other things, that the 2013 voting law requiring photo identification was enacted by the Republican-controlled Virginia legislature in response to President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election.

Proponents of the ID requirement said the law was needed to curb voter fraud by impersonation. The defendants in the suit, state election officials, deny enacting any policy to discriminate against minorities or that the legislation has the effect of discriminating against minorities.

Among those testifying Wednesday was one of the plaintiffs, Gonzalo Aida Brescia, an activist in the Democratic Party who has helped get Latinos and young people to register to vote. He said the new ID requirements make the job more difficult.

He testified that while working at a poll during an August 2014 primary election in Richmond, he saw some people who lacked proper ID refuse to fill out a provisional ballot — requiring a return by noon of the Friday after the election with suitable ID — and left without voting.

Keith Scarborough, a Democrat on the Prince William County electoral board, said, “We’ve never had a situation where someone has come in and tried to impersonate someone else.”

Scarborough said that some voters, on learning about the photo ID requirement, want to know why it is required and why they cannot use the same ID they used in previous elections. “They feel like it’s an attempt to make it more restrictive for certain persons,” he said.

Cheryl Zando of Henrico County, a consultant and volunteer activist with the Democratic Party, testified about efforts made to educate voters on the changes — a job that took time and money away from other party activities.

Minnite, the last witness of the day, was cross-examined by Mark F. Hearne II, a defense lawyer, and conceded there is some voter fraud. “I never say, ‘No, it never happens.’ ” But, she added, “it’s rare.”

Earlier, she referred to a chart showing federal indictments for various crimes over a one-year period that indicated in the 2004 election, in which 120 million votes were cast, there were just 60 cases of voter fraud nationwide.

Hearne, however, pointed out that the same chart showed 781 indictments for tax fraud and asked if she believed that was a true indicator of the amount of tax fraud committed by hundreds of millions of taxpayers. She said no, but added she has other data showing voter fraud is rare.

Referring to an earlier reference Wednesday to a dog being registered to vote in another state, Hearne asked, “Would requiring an ID prevent the dog from voting?”

Generating chuckles in the courtroom, Minnite responded, “I would hope, if a dog walked into a polling place.”

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