Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Real Fraud

At what point can we call the current rush to require state issued photo IDs at all polling stations for the 2012 election what it actually is – a solution in search of a problem?

Republicans believe that they have a winning argument to disenfranchise thousands of would-be voters, specifically those who live on the margins of society with the softest voices in national affairs.  “Why wouldn’t we demand a photo ID to vote?  You need a photo ID to buy beer.  Isn’t voting at least as important?”  Try to ignore for the moment that voting is a right, not a privilege.

The GOP seems content to hang their hats on this line of reasoning, since it is clear that they have all but given up arguing that voter fraud exists in any statistically significant way in the states.  Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Carole Aichele, testified during the state trial on their controversial voter ID law that she wasn’t sure about the details of the law, which she probably should before the trial started.

“I don’t know what the law says,” Aichele said under questioning.  I guess even after it passed, she still doesn’t know what’s in it.

Aichele also couldn’t provide any evidence that 99 percent of voters already have a valid form of ID, as the state has claimed.  

The commonwealth of Pennsylvania went even further than Ms. Aichele in her testimony.  The state has agreed not to argue that there is any evidence of in-person voter impersonation fraud.  They’ve formally acknowledged that there’s been no reported in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania and there isn’t likely to be in November.  Doesn’t that undercut the need for the law?  

Their statement explicitly acknowledges that there “have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states.”  In plain English, that means that the state admits that the voter fraud issue is a Right Wing Fantasy. 

The agreement goes on to state that Pennsylvania “will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere” and will not argue “that in person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the Photo ID law.”  Great.  The state admits it has passed a law with no positive impact anticipated.

Pennsylvania isn’t the only commonwealth to give up the pretext that rampant voter fraud exists, therefore must be addressed by restrictive new laws that disproportionately impact those voters who traditionally swing Democratic.

Here in Virginia, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that officials have prosecuted 39 cases of voter fraud out of the approximately 3.7 million votes cast in the 2008 election. The newspaper said that a majority of the 39 cases resulted in convictions and an additional 26 cases were still being investigated. 

One problem: the type of voter fraud that allegedly took place — namely, felons voting when they shouldn’t have been — wouldn’t have been prevented by the proposed voter ID law.  The felons who voted didn’t pretend to be someone else at the polling stations.  They were just ineligible.  The ID solution would not address this problem. 

Nonetheless, the GOP will continue to bang this drum until it hurts.   RNC chair Reince Priebus claimed earlier this summer that voter fraud by Democrats is so rampant in Wisconsin that Republican candidates "need to do a point or two better than where we think we need to be, to overcome it."  Governor Walker made a nearly identical claim weeks earlier.

Never mind that "one or two points" in an election where 3 million people cast ballots would amount to between 30,000 and 60,000 fraudulent votes, and a year-long, in-depth investigation into the 2008 election in twelve Wisconsin counties by the then state's Republican Attorney General netted just 20 charges.  Of those 20 charges, only two individuals were charged after the 2008 elections with committing the kind of in-person "voter fraud" that stricter identification requirements might prevent.

The courts may be the last chance to stop this madness.   A Wisconsin court has declared that the state's new voter ID restrictions placed an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.  Pennsylvania may do the same.  Darn activist judges protecting the right to vote at the expense of the rights of job creators!

So in person voter fraud does not occur in any significant fashion; the laws being proposed and passed negatively impact some groups in favor of others; the laws as written will not reduce the perceived problem…so that begs the question: why is it so important to the GOP right now?

It helps stop Democratic leaning voters from making their voices heard on Election Day.  There is no other answer.

As Jamelle Bouie wrote:

Voter-identification laws have a hugely disproportionate effect on minorities, young people, the elderly, and the poor. These are the people most likely to live at the margins of American life, and as such, the least likely to have access to proper identification. They’re also targets for other conservative attacks—on the welfare state, on public education, and on income security for retirees. All of this is evidence that Republicans are preparing for a period of zero-sum politics, where—in a world of slow growth—both sides fight to maintain their share of a shrinking pie. It’s “job creators” versus everyone else.

Lord knows, fraud has existed throughout the history of the republic.  I can’t say for certain that Lyndon Johnson would have ever won an election in Texas without it.  Photo IDs would not have prevented him from fixing those results in his favor.  He had other tricks that moved hundreds of numbers at a time.  In person voter fraud is quite frankly a terribly inefficient way to steal an election.  Voter suppression is much more effective and efficient, as the GOP is clearly aware by their recent legislative actions.

The voting process must be completely free of fraud and the appearance of fraud.  This is critical to provide elected officials with legitimacy in office.  In order to achieve that goal, the rights of voters cannot be infringed.  It might help if we attacked other potential risks to the voting process, like lost ballots, miscounts, computer virus attacks and the like.  A singular focus on IDs and a rush to implement them smells fishy to me.  It should to you, too.

At what point can we call the current rush to require state issued photo IDs at all polling stations for the 2012 election what it actually is – a solution to the problem of the GOP losing Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida in November?

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