John Oliver — the British host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight — focused on voter ID laws during his Sunday show. And it turns out the U.S. does have a voter fraud problem, but it’s not the one that you think.
Oliver — who is rightfully mystified by the idiosyncrasies of American politics — pointed out that while states have increasingly begun requiring photo IDs to combat voter fraud, voter fraud isn’t actually a problem in elections in the United States. Between 2000 and 2014, for instance, there were only 31 instances of potential voter fraud out of over a billion votes. Yes, 31 out of a billion. But this hasn’t stopped states — specifically, red states — from requiring voter IDs. And why is this? Because the GOP benefits when fewer people vote, so Republican legislators have inflated the threat of voter fraud. Voter IDs are a crazy solution to a problem that doesn’t actually exist, but as Oliver points out, there is one population that commits voter fraud with impunity: lawmakers.
Unlike Americans in the 18 states that require photo identification to vote in elections, elected officials have no such requirement when voting on legislation. That’s hardly surprising. But what is surprising is that the very people who have written voter ID laws into law are actually guilty of committing voter fraud themselves. Take Debbie Riddle, the representative who filed HB 16, the law requiring government-issued IDs for voters in Texas.
In 2007, Riddle was caught on tape “ghost voting” for her absent colleagues — basically, reaching across her desk to vote for someone who wasn’t there. Riddle wasn’t alone: A local news investigation found representatives from both parties voting for absent colleagues — often multiple times during a single vote. And although this is a blatant violation of House rules, the investigation found no instance of lawmakers being disciplined for this voter fraud. When asked why this practice was allowed to continue, Speaker of the House Tom Craddick shrugged his shoulders and said it was up to lawmakers to police themselves.
So think about this the next time you’re tempted to sit out an election: Don’t vote because it’s your civic duty. Don’t even vote because it’s in the best interest of the country. Vote because John Oliver can’t, but people like Debbie Riddle can.
Get Grist in your inbox