When it comes to the “war on voting,” there’s no real debate as to whether the Republican tactics exist. Both parties already agree that GOP officials across the country are placing new restrictions — voter-ID laws, severe limits on voter-registration drives, closing early-voting windows, strict new limits on absentee ballots — all of which affect traditionally Democratic constituencies.

The debate is over the rationale behind the “war.” For Democrats, there’s no great mystery — Republicans are trying to rig an entire election cycle by putting the most severe hurdles between Americans and the voting process since Jim Crow. Feigning offense, Republicans dismiss such talk. “These efforts are about preventing voter fraud,” they say.

It’s worth pausing, from time to time, to acknowledge a simple truth. As the New York Times editorial board explains today, “There is almost no voting fraud in America.”

The most widespread hurdle has been the demand for photo identification at the polls, a departure from the longstanding practice of using voters’ signatures or household identification like a utility bill. Seven states this year have passed laws requiring strict photo ID to vote, and similar measures were introduced in 27 other states. More than 21 million citizens — 11 percent of the population — do not have government ID cards. Many of them are poor, or elderly, or black and Hispanic and could have a hard time navigating the bureaucracy to get a card.

In Kansas, the secretary of state, Kris Kobach (who also wrote Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant law), pushed for an ID law on the basis of a list of 221 reported instances of voter fraud in Kansas since 1997. Even if that were true, it would be an infinitesimal percentage of the votes cast during that period, but it is not true.

When The Wichita Eagle looked into the local cases on the list, the newspaper found that almost all were honest mistakes: a parent trying to vote for a student away at college, or signatures on mail-in ballots that didn’t precisely match those on file. In one case of supposed “fraud,” a confused non-citizen was asked at the motor vehicles bureau whether she wanted to fill out a voter registration form, and did so not realizing she was ineligible to vote.

GOP officials are standing in the precinct doors, pointing to a problem that doesn’t exist.

It’s a thin pretense for an undemocratic scheme. The result is a new system that will likely keep 5 million Americans from participating in the next election.

It’s arguably the nation’s most important political scandal — and most of the country has never heard a word about it.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.