By JUSTIN GRANT
Voter fraud is a serious problem, and we must do everything we can to ensure the fairness and integrity of our elections.
Undoubtedly, you have heard this sentiment expressed countless times in the past several months. The prospect is at once compelling and frightening, especially at a time when potentially unlimited corporate money can flow into politics thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.1 In fact, it is an issue that it almost feels okay to be wrong about, because taking the utmost care in ensuring fair elections—even if it is overkill—seems to be the right thing to do.
But is it the right thing to do? No. The furor that has erupted over voter fraud is ideologically-driven, opportunist, and intended to disenfranchise legitimate voters. Mike Turzai, the Majority Leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, frankly admitted this in an address to that body in June. Others have not been so forthcoming, but courts are starting to catch on.
First, let us identify the sort of voter fraud that “reformers” allege is occurring and their proposed solutions. The story is that in-person voting fraud is alarmingly common, and it takes two forms: either a person votes in multiple precincts, meaning her vote is counted more than once, or a person is able to vote despite being ineligible due to non-citizenship, disenfranchisement as a result of a felony, etc.
Is any of this actually a problem? No; rather, requiring photo ID to vote is a solution looking for a problem that just is not there. Certainly, there are abundant anecdotes of voter fraud everywhere. One man even registered his dog to vote in an attempt to demonstrate how easy fraud is to perpetuate. The story set off conservative alarm bells: “As this event demonstrated, there could potentially be many votes placed in this next election from persons who are not eligible or are not allowed to vote, diluting the validity of the results for some of us.” Strange, since this dog never cast a ballot, the dog’s owner is married to a staffer who worked on New Mexico Republican Heather Wilson’s Senate campaign, and police criminally investigated the fraud.
Rather than simply relying on stories and scare tactics, the Brennan Center for Justice has investigated the claims of voter ID proponents and found them to be lacking. The Center summarized its findings thus:
* Fraud by individual voters is both irrational and extremely rare.
* Many vivid anecdotes of purported voter fraud have been proven false or do not demonstrate fraud.
* Voter fraud is often conflated with other forms of election misconduct.
* Raising the unsubstantiated specter of mass voter fraud suits a particular policy agenda.
* Claims of voter fraud should be carefully tested before they become the basis for action.
The Brennan Center leaves the reader to determine the obvious—why some lawmakers still support voter ID laws. Clearly, it cannot be an effort to clean up elections and ensure fairness because in-person voter fraud is simply not a problem; absentee balloting is where the vast majority of cases of voter fraud occur. Rather, restrictive laws on in-person voting are an effort to suppress voting, not ensure its fairness. These efforts are most likely to target minorities, and minority voters tend to lean Democratic.
Eighteen states have enacted voting-related laws over the past couple of years, many of them swing states. The courts struck down a proposed Constitutional amendment requiring photo ID in Missouri. In addition to voter ID laws, Republican lawmakers have also attempted to restrict voter registration drives and cut back on early voting, both of which have helped ensure voting access for minority, elderly, and student voters. For example, an early voting system was put into place in Ohio following the 2004 Presidential election in which the state’s voting apparatuses were overwhelmed, leading to long lines and voters leaving the polls. It was amended by the Republican-controlled legislature last year. The amended law grants only military personnel the extra three days to vote early; studies have shown that military members overall vote Republican at a higher clip than the general population, and are much more likely to vote Republican than minority voters in the general population. Following a suit by the Obama administration to restore early voting for all citizens of Ohio, Doug Priesse, a state Republican party chairman, commented that “I guess I really actually feel that we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter turnout machine.”
Courts all over the country have sniffed out the true intentions of this brand of legislation. A federal court in the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the Obama administration last month on its challenge to Ohio’s law, and three other states—Florida, Texas and Wisconsin—have seen their new voting laws blocked, though further review may ensue. The legal theory under which these laws are unconstitutional is that there are numerous protections for the right to vote enshrined in the Constitution and its amendments, and these laws each infringe upon one or more of them.
These episodes of intentional voter suppression are some of the worst examples of what is wrong with the American political system today. Ideology and party take precedence over the once-treasured, lofty ideals our country claims to stand for: justice, fairness, democracy, equality, and representation for all. Lawmakers enact these statutes in the name of those very ideals, knowing full well what their impact will be.
1 558 U.S. 50 (2010). The Court’s holding is that corporations and unions are protected under the First Amendment from having speech restrictions placed on them related to “electioneering communications.” This ruling has had a cascading effect, leading to the creation of political action committees known as “Super PACs,” which as long as they do not contribute directly to a party or candidate, may accept unlimited contributions from political donors and use that money to propagate political speech (usually in the form of political advertising).