Friday, November 18, 2011

Threat #1

In many more or less politically-free societies, including ours, that institutionalized counterforce to the power of elites I mentioned in the previous post is voting: the ability to to choose those who act on your behalf, people who by virtue of that election have, at least in theory, the power to balance and control that of the elites and so preserve the interests and freedoms of the broader populace.

That theory, quite obviously, has failed many times in actual practice as we discover that those we have chosen to represent us have more in common with the elites they are supposed to counter than with those who elected them. But the fact remains that the power of the vote does exist and can be - and at times surely has been - of use, as one source, one means, of progress.

It is that power - the power of the vote to represent, albeit it rather imperfectly, the will of people and the demands of justice and progress - that is under threat.

As, again, I said in the previous post, that threat is organized, it is coordinated, it is conscious, undertaken with knowing intent. It lies in the wave of new restrictive so-called voter ID laws, laws that are intended to make it harder for people to register to vote, harder for them to vote early, harder for them to vote absentee, and harder for them to vote when actually at polls, all by demanding the presentation of certain forms of government-approved ID, often enough photo ID.

How can know this is a campaign? First off, some 27 states now require some form of ID at the polls. Most of those laws were passed within the last year or two. Fourteen of those states require specific forms of government-issued photo ID; half of those did so just this year. At least a dozen more states considered restrictive ID laws this year.

I find it hard to chalk that up to coincidence, particularly when many if not most such laws are based on model legislation drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a consortium of large corporations and GOPper state legislators founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich and other reactionaries. It's purpose is to create model legislation to advance the corporate-rightwing agenda that those GOPper state legislators then can bring back home.

Why is this a threat? Beyond what I hope would be the obvious objections to any attempts to limit or frustrate access to the franchise for anything less than the clearest, most compelling reasons, the notable fact is that these laws disproportionately affect certain segments of the population, such as the elderly, the poor, disabled people, people of color, and students - groups that, significantly, on the whole are more likely to vote for liberal as opposed to conservative candidates.

In a recent report (the Executive Summary is here), the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law says that these new laws could block 5 million otherwise-eligible American voters from voting. An estimated 11% of eligible voters nationwide - over 21 million adults - do not have the increasingly demanded government-issued photo ID and the percentage is even higher for, again, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, people of color, and students.

Many of those lacking the newly-required IDs would find it hard to get them. First, the underlying documentation - the ID you need to get the ID, if you will - can sometimes be hard to come by and getting it can be expensive: A report in the Washington Post said the paperwork could cost as much as $200. Contrast that with the fact that when the poll tax was declared unconstitutional in 1966, it was $1.50 - the equivalent of a bit under $9.00 today.

In other words, this is a deliberate campaign to hinder liberal-leaning voters from being able to register to vote and from being able cast a ballot if they are able to register. It is a conscious plan to deliberately, permanently, tilt the electoral playing field in favor of right-wing candidates.

And how do I know that, how can I be so sure that this is not just a happy but unintended result for the reactionaries? One way is that the claim on which this whole effort is founded, the whole basis, is that it is necessary to protect the "integrity of the vote" against an "epidemic" of "voter fraud."

That claim is thoroughly, completely, absolutely, any other definitive term you care to use and the more definitive the better, bogus! It is a lie. A bold-faced, poisonous lie. The truth is that voter fraud is almost non-existent in this country and the kind of fraud that voter ID laws would address is even rarer.

Consider this: Starting in 2002, the Justice Department required every US Attorney to designate a district election officer, someone whose job it would be to investigate and prosecute electoral fraud.
These officers' attendance was required at annual training seminars, where they were taught how to investigate, prosecute and convict fraudulent voters.
Over the next five years, during which time a scandal broke out over the Shrub administration's pressuring of those US Attorney to initiate prosecutions of electoral fraud, there were only 86 convictions on related charges. That is over the entire country over a period of five years. That is 0.00007 percent - that's 7/100,000 of 1% - of the 122 million people who voted in 2004 presidential elections alone. (Note there were two other federal elections in that period, 2002 and 2006, plus numerous state and local elections.)

Consider this as well: This year, Kansas passed one of most restrictive voter ID laws in the country. The GOPper Secretary of State defended it on the grounds that over a span of 13 years (1997 - 2010), there were 221 instances of alleged voter fraud reported in the state. Now, 221 allegations in 13 years hardly constitutes a crime wave - but beyond that, those were allegations, not actual cases. In fact, only 30 individuals were prosecuted in that time and only seven of those were convicted. Remember, this is over a span of 13 years - which would make what we might call a "yearly fraud index" of something around 0.000025 percent, that is, 25 millionths of one percent. For this we will disenfranchise thousands or more in Kansas alone?

In fact, the Brennan Center has found that the accumulated rate of voter fraud in states with documented cases of such fraud is minuscule: 3/10,000 of 1% in Missouri; 2/10,000 of 1% in New Jersey; 9/1,000,000 of 1% New York, numbers that are vanishingly small.

Then consider this: An MIT study done last year found that problems with voter registration records kept up to 3 million registered and fully-qualified voters from voting. Which means that even if the cases of electoral fraud were 10,000 times greater than the number found by the US Attorneys who were under active pressure to find it, it would still mean that close to four times as many properly-registered, qualified voters were kept from voting as there were cases of fraud.

And remember those seven convictions in Kansas? One was for electioneering (campaigning too close to a polling place) and six were for double voting. Photo ID laws would not have prevented any of those. The truth is, virtually all cases of actual, proven, voter fraud involve electioneering or similar illegalities, not the sort of misrepresentation that a photo ID would address.

The arguments for voter ID laws are myths, they are fakery, they are bullshit, they are a "solution" in search of a problem. And when you have a "solution" in search of a problem, you should always try to determine what is the real "problem" being addressed. Sometimes that's hard to see, but in this case, it's easy: The "problem" is that too many of the "wrong sorts" of people are able to vote - too many, that is, who are not reliably right wing.

There is another way you can know this is a campaign: The arguments are all the same. All across the country, from all these supposedly independent voices, you get the same two arguments, generally in essentially the same words. (Remember ALEC?)

The first argument, as noted above, is to screech unrelentingly about "voter fraud" - and do it, incidentally without ever noting or admitting that the bills you are proposing (especially true with photo ID laws) will not actually touch the kinds of fraud you are screeching about.

The second argument runs along the lines of "an ID is required to board a plane or cash a check or check into a hotel - why not to vote?"

It sounds impressive at first hearing, but give it a moment's thought (which they are counting on you not taking the time to do) and it collapses. For one this, it is a true, classic, example of apples and oranges: two things that might very superficially seem the same but are actually different, as a number of editorial writers have pointed out. (This is one example.)

Cashing a check or getting on a plane are personal economic decisions - they are not basic rights enshrined in a number of state constitutions. Checking into a hotel is completely unrelated to your role as a citizen, completely unrelated to your role in the political process, completely unrelated to your right to vote. They are not cornerstones of representative democracy. And to suggest the ones can be equated with the other is an insult to the electoral process.

And, in fact, it might well be noted that many of the people most affected by these anti-voting laws are the very people less likely to be flying on a plane on any sort of regular basis, to be traveling around checking into hotels, or even in a number of cases to have a checking account.

Even right-wingers sometimes have had to recognize that simple fact. In 2008, Indiana's new photo ID law was under what proved ultimately to be an unsuccessful court challenge. At the appellate level, at the Seventh circuit Court of Appeals, Richard Posner, a Reagan appointee, wrote majority opinion upholding the law. He said in part:
No doubt most people who don't have photo ID are low on the economic ladder and thus, if they do vote, are more likely to vote for Democratic than Republican candidates.
That is, Posner (who also wrote that the "benefits of voting to the individual voter are elusive") acknowledged the discriminatory nature of the law, acknowledged the disparate impact on certain segments of the population, acknowledged the resulting bias in favor of one major political party over the other - and, more importantly, of one political ideology the another - and then blithely ruled none of that was a problem.

(Despite that acknowledgment on the appellate record, the Supreme Court upheld the law despite admitting in its lead opinion that there was "no evidence" of the type of fraud the law was supposedly designed to counter.)

The comparisons to cashing checks and the like are bogus. The right wing knows they are bogus. The right wing knows these laws disproportionately affect the poor, people with disabilities, the elderly, students, people of color, and so on. The right wing knows these laws disproportionately affect liberal voters as compared to conservative voters - and they just don’t care.

Or, more correctly, they do care because that is the purpose. That is the intent. That is the goal: to institute a permanent, structural bias in our electoral system, a structural bias in favor of conservative, right-wing voters and conservative right-wing government, a structural bias in favor of the haves over the have-nots, in favor of the needless over the needy, a structural bias in favor of greed and selfishness and the power of the elites and against any notion of progress or reform.

Make no mistake: That is what this is about. Power. It's all about power. About the power of the few over the many.

And if you doubt that, if you think your vote is safe because if you have all the government-issued photo IDs anyone could want, what in all that’s decent makes you think they will stop at this? Power by its nature wants more power; power is never satisfied.

Still unconvinced? Then think about this: Remember that just a few years ago, and you will remember this as soon as I mention it, and you’ll probably realize you haven’t thought about it for a while, but yes you'll remember how just a few years ago the big concern about voting was how few people were voting, about low turnouts, about how the level of participation in elections in this country was embarrassing, how even in presidential elections the turnout might only be 60% - and considering that only half of eligible voters were registered, in a close election that might well mean a president was elected with the support of less than 15% of the eligible voting population.

All the talk was about how we could get more people to the polls, how we could get more people registered, more people involved, how we could remove roadblocks between potential voters and the voting booth.

Now, just a rather few years of right-wing screeching and lying and media collaboration later, all the talk is about how many roadblocks we can put on that path, how hard we can make it to register and to vote. Or again more correctly, how hard we can make if for some people to vote.

And it's come to the point where the reactionaries are barely even trying to hide what they're doing. This year, Wisconsin passed a strict voter ID law. But supporters claimed this created no problem because the state would provide "free" state IDs to those without them. Besides the fact that you still need the documents to get the document, where did you have to get to to obtain one of these "free" IDs? State DMV offices. Right after the law was passed, Governor Walkalloveryou closed a bunch of DMV offices in largely Democratic districts while expanding the hours in ones in GOPper districts.

So if you think your vote is safe - well, if you reliably vote for the oligarchs it probably is. Otherwise, otherwise.

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