John Oliver's Last Week Tonight is back – but without late-night television's usual coverage of presidential candidates. Oliver has said that the show's election coverage will “more likely to be about the process than the people.”
Last night Mr. Oliver debuted season three of the show with a takedown of the controversial voter ID laws, which have proliferated around the country following the US Supreme Court’s decision to curtail the Voting Rights Act.
Oliver specifically looked at laws that require a photo ID to vote, arguing that such laws, ostensibly aimed to prevent fraud at the polls by stopping voter impersonation, are tackling a problem that rarely happens.
"While American history is littered with vote buying, vote tampering, and ballot-box stuffing, voter ID doesn't prevent those crimes,” Oliver said.
“The only crime it prevents is voter impersonation – one person showing up to the polls, pretending to be someone they're not. Which is a pretty stupid crime, because you have to stand in line at a polling place and risk five years in prison and a $10,000 fine all to cast one probably not-consequential extra vote. … The truth here is voter impersonation fraud is incredibly rare."
According to a News21, a journalism project at Arizona State University, of the 28 instances of voter fraud convictions nationwide since 2000, only one was for voter impersonation, the form of fraud that voter ID laws are designed to prevent.
Yet proponents of Voter ID laws have long defended these laws, and often citing public opinion polls that show widespread support for their arguments. As many as 40 percent of the respondents in one survey, and 25 percent in another, believed that the US election system is plagued by voter fraud or vote theft, according to Reuters.
But opponents of these laws have accused these advocates of presenting lies to the public, saying that public’s apparent support for strict voter ID laws is based on a lack of knowledge. Opponents, including Oliver, argue that such laws disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters and disproportionately impact minority voters.
“In Texas, for instance, experts found that African-American voters were nearly twice as likely to lack voter ID, and Latinos were nearly two and a half times as likely,” said Oliver. “It's just one of those things that white people seem to be more likely to have, like a sunburn or an Oscar nomination."
A 2014 research from the Government Accountability Office found that turnout dropped among both young people and African-Americans in Kansas and Tennessee after new voter ID requirements took effect in 2012.
“There is only one motivation for imposing burdens on voting that are ostensibly designed to discourage voter-impersonation fraud,” Richard Posner conservative US circuit judge wrote in a ruling. “And that is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens.”
A total of 33 states have enforced the new voter identification requirements as of February 2016. Of those, 18 states require voters to present photo identification, while 15 accept other forms of identification. In some states, a voter who is unable to present valid identification may still be permitted to vote without casting a provisional ballot – a practise known as, non-strict requirement. In eight states of the 17 states that require a photo ID, the requirement is non-strict, while it is non-strict in 14 of the states that do not require a photo.