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elections

The Republican Campaign that Kept Democrats from the Polls

With a Supreme Court only too eager to help

If Republicans regain the Senate and increase their majority in the House, that will partly accrue to the dismal ratings of President Obama and his administration. But the other deciding factor is expected to be how many Democrats have been made to give up on voting because of the deliberate attempt to make it difficult.

Republicans have waged a campaign in state after state to enact strict voting laws intended to discourage Democratic groups from voting. For two and a quarter centuries the nation has seen no need for voter identification. That this omission is suddenly in need of an urgent fix betrays an agenda that has nothing to do with what Republicans have been schooled to repeat as the reason — that voter fraud is abroad in the land.

Not a single study bears this out. Voter fraud is so non-existent as to be at the vanishing point. The real fraud is the claim that it is a problem and the refusal to own up to what is obviously prevarication.

Some 34 states have enacted hurdles that make voting more difficult; 30 require some form of identification, 18 of those require photo-IDs. In addition, early voting, Sunday registration, registration and voting on the same day — these conveniences have been shortened or eliminated, predominately affecting blacks, Latinos and the poor, groups that take the greatest advantage of these accommodations and which traditionally vote Democratic. The photo-ID requirement targets these same groups; they are more likely not to have cars and the driver licenses that go with them that satisfy the photo requirement for everyone else. Those same people are more likely to lack the money it costs to muster the documentation needed to prove identity, or to sacrifice pay to travel to some government office to apply for a state ID. In counties where they are populous, blacks and Latinos have seen the number of polling places cut to increase the travel distance and make the waiting lines longer. Out-of-district voting has been eliminated to target students, who typically lean Democrat; they must return home in order to vote. Laws that do not accept even the student IDs issued by state colleges are another way their vote has been stifled. The pretense that this flurry of measures is not meant to trim the Democratic voters is deeply cynical.

It is reasonable in principle that we ought to be able to prove who we are in order to vote. But the right to vote is at the core of a democracy, so making it as easy and cost-free as possible is another reasonable principle. The Republican campaign insists on the first but reverses the second. Millions of Americans don't know what became of their birth certificates, if they ever had a copy. We each know we exist and if a state requires a birth certificate to prove to itself that we exist, then there is no reason we should have to pay a cent for it. Yet depending on the state, fees charged for going through the process of proving identity can cost as much as $175, which, of course, the poor can ill afford. This is a return of the poll tax; in fact, far orders of magnitude more than the $1.50 poll tax once charged for the right to vote in southern states. The outcome is that hundreds of thousands of citizens are being effectively denied the right to vote.

the big lie

Justin Levitt is a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who has been tracking allegations of voting fraud since 2000. In the years since, more than a billion votes have been cast, yet he has found only 31 instances in which someone was accused of casting a ballot in someone else's name. He details them all in this Washington Post piece.

This report from the Brennan Center for Justice tracked down hundreds of fraud claims and found that clerical errors, similar names, matching names crossed with one another, and address changes are the most common reasons for mix ups, not fraud. They found that claims of votes cast by dead people were invariably cast by persons who died at some point after voting. Brennan cites as example claims of irregularities in Ohio that led to a statewide survey of votes cast in 2002 and 2004. Out of 9,078,728 votes, "four instances of ineligible persons voting" were found — a factor of 0.00000044%.

In Texas, there were two convictions for in-person voter impersonation in 10 years during which 20 million votes were cast.

The Bush administration Justice Department reported in 2007 that a five-year review found no proof of attempts to tamper with elections.

There are many pathways for cheating such as forged absentee ballots and voter registrations in fictitious names, but none of these offenses is prevented by photo-IDs. Which should make one suspicious why the Republican campaign did not go after closing those loopholes. The point of their strategy is not to identify people on the voting lines; it is to keep them off the lines in the first place by throwing up the obstacle of having to go to the trouble of obtaining an ID.

In-person voter fraud doesn't exist for good reason. Impersonation of someone else is an absurdly ineffectual way to try to sway an election. Think it through. How many would have to be paid off to make a difference? Think of the risk of enlisting those stand-ins, with any one of them likely to blow the whistle. How many would be foolish enough to agree to commit a felony that carries a five year prison term and a $10,000 fine — even deportation, if applicable?

Yet the conservative group True the Vote claims that Democratic operatives routinely bus loads of illegal voters to polling places throughout the country. Anyone who believes that needs to undergo a propaganda purge.

supreme court engineering another election

Federal courts in several states struck down portions of the new laws only to have the Supreme Court override their decisions at the last minute, allowing the laws to go forward with the claim that letting the states continue to do as they always have done would be too confusing. Here's a rundown:

North Carolina: The Voting Rights Act of 1965, amended five times by Congress to expand its protections, was disabled by the Supreme Court last year. The Act required "pre-clearance" by the Justice Department of any changes in voting laws in a number of mostly southern states which had histories of electoral skullduggery. In Shelby County v. Holder the Supreme Court ended pre-clearance, saying the litmus tests of the long ago law no longer fit.

North Carolina had enacted the most sweeping menu of voter restrictions in the country after the complete Republican takeover of the governorship and legislature, followed by the Supreme Court freeing the state from "pre-clearance" of those changes. But the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a couple of the new law's provisions: the elimination of same-day registration and out-of-precinct balloting. The first made an unregistered voter make two trips instead of one, the second made students return to mom and dad's homestead to vote. Both discourage voting.

But that was fine with the Supreme Court which stepped in to reinstate the eliminations.

Ohio: The state cut a week from early voting — the only week which offered same -day registration — and did away with voting in evening hours, Sundays, and the day before the election — actions that took away the rights of county election boards to make their own arrangements. Minorities vote early at twice the rate of whites and on their days off from work, so the intent was clear. But Ohio's secretary of state inscrutably said the new rules would make it "easy to vote and hard to cheat".

A lower court reversed these changes, but in came the Supreme Court again to restored the reduced schedule.

Texas:U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos struck down the state's new voter-ID law in a 143-page decision that said the law constituted an "unconstitutional poll tax" by a legislature that was "motivated because of and not merely in spite of the voter-ID law's detrimental effects on the African-American and Hispanic electorate". And on students. The Texas law accepts a concealed handgun license as acceptable identification but not a student ID card. Ramos revealed in her opinion that a Republican state senator had asked the Texas Department of Public Safety to match driver licenses to voter registrations, an exercise that turned up half a million voters who lack this most-used photo-ID. But this data was withheld from the Texas legislature before the vote. Overall, testimony in the suit said that 1.2 million eligible voters lack any photo proof.

A court of appeals stayed Judge Ramos' decision, letting the new law proceed. The Supreme Court agreed. Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissent saying that the appeals court had paid no deference at all to Judge Ramos' "reasoned, record-based judgment" and the "fact-intensive nature of this case". To her chagrin, neither did Judge Ginsburg's own court.

Wisconsin: Federal district judge Lynn Adelman in Milwaukee invalidated the state's voter-ID law in a 90-page opinion saying it violates the Voting Rights Act and that "virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin". But a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned.

One of the judges of the 7th Circuit not on that panel was Richard Posner. A year ago he recanted his 2007 opinion that gave the go-ahead to Indiana's voter-ID law. At the time he believed it would disenfranchise only a few. Too late, he came to realize last fall that voter-ID laws are "now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention". In Wisconsin's case, some 300,000 will have found hindrances to voting. Former Justice John Paul Stevens is another apostate. He voted for Indiana's photo-ID law when the case came before the Supreme Court, but now says colleagues who dissented were "dead right".

Posner attempted to get the full 7th to review its panel's Wisconsin decision, but the full court deadlocked 5-5. He wrote a scathing 30-page dissent that the Los Angeles Times called an "eloquent, incisive and angry" demolition of every argument for voter-ID laws. A "litany of practical obstacles" stand in the path of anyone lacking a driver's license who hopes to vote in Wisconsin", Posner wrote. "There is compelling evidence that voter-impersonation fraud is essentially nonexistent" in the state.

Posner is a mostly conservative Reagan appointee regarded as the most influential judge on the federal bench, so the Supreme Court may have taken notice of what he had to say. In this one instance, the high court set aside the 7th's panel decision and let Judge Adelman's Milwaukee ruling stand.

deniers beat on against the current

But op-ed writers at the Wall Street Journal won't concede to dishonesty. In April a senior attorney from Judicial Watch, a self-admitting conservative foundation, searched about and found a faulty study by students at Arizona State as something to pick apart as proof that studies showing voter fraud to be bogus are wrong. The writer went on to say that the minuscule number of criminal proceedings are no guide because "convictions are a fraction of prosecutions, which are a fraction of investigations, which are a fraction of known offenses , which are a fraction of committed crimes". In other words, there must be plenty of voter fraud out there. We just don't see it.

More recently a Journal op-ed by Edwin Meese, Reagan's attorney general under Reagan, and J. Kenneth Blackwell, a former Ohio secretary of state, castigated current Attorney General Eric Holder for his "pernicious…demonizing of state attempts to ensure honest elections" by, presumably, Holder applying the law — Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act against discrimination. The writers also tell us that by some mysterious alchemy the new laws actually increase voter turnout. And they would "like to say something that might strike some as obvious. Those who oppose voter-ID laws and other election-integrity reforms are intent on making it easier to commit vote fraud. That conclusion is inescapable".

2 Comments for “The Republican Campaign that Kept Democrats from the Polls”

  1. Voting is an earned right. So is driving a car, traveling in and out of the country, receiving aid benefits from insurance or Government agencies, basic banking, proving to be of legal age to drink alcohol or buy tobacco, buying firearms and obtaining hunting licenses, etc… Why should voting be excluded from Identification procedures required for all the listed and unlisted basic activities performed by most all US citizens? States have adequate exemption/waiver procedures for the handicapped and disabled. ID’s protect all of us from fraud. They do so imperfectly but it’s all we have!
    Voter fraud is serious and exists in the US as elsewhere in the world. I’ve seen voting processes in other countries and ID’s are ALWAYS required. Opponents of voter ID laws claim that voter fraud is practically non existent or insignificant in the US. Voter fraud has existed in the past and exists today and will exist tomorrow… Voter ID laws are constitutional, let’s voice support for them!

  2. This topic was thoroughly covered in an episode of The Newsroom about a year ago.

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