Thursday, August 16, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #69 - Part 4

Voter ID laws: Attacks on the right to vote

I've talked before about attacks on The Commons, on the idea that we as a society are a community of shared interests and responsibilities, each to the other and to the whole. I've also discussed how that idea is under relentless attack by those who want to advance their own greed and selfishness and want to be freed from the idea of having any responsibility to or for anyone else.

I've also said that one form those attacks take are these voter ID laws, particularly the photo ID laws. These laws are an attack on the right to vote and they have disproportionate impact on the ability to vote among the poor, minorities, students, and the elderly. Three of those groups, when they do vote, often lean to the liberal side of things - and the fourth, the elderly, when it comes to things like Social Security and Medicare, will be on the liberal side as well. That is, these laws are an attempt to prevent people who might be more liberal from voting and so create a voting landscape permanently tilted to the right.

Put more directly, there is an organized effort by the right wing to permanently undermine our democracy and turn it into even more of a facade than it may well already be. If that charge seems overheated, just consider the facts.

First, there is the simple fact, so undeniable that even supporters of these laws don't bother to try, that these laws do have clearly greater impact on, again, the poor, minorities, students, and the elderly. There are multiple studies all concluding the same thing.

Then there is the equally simple fact, this one equally rationally undeniable but still denied by the rabid right, that the supposed problem these laws propose to address - in-person voter fraud - does not actually exist. In-person voter fraud means someone showing up at the polls, pretending to be someone else, and voting in their name. That is the only type of supposed voter fraud that these laws address - and that type of fraud is as close to non-existant as it's possible to get.

Again, there are a host of studies on this; I'm just going a brand new one. It came out this past Monday, August 13. It was done by News21, a nonpartisan investigative news project funded by the Carnegie and Knight foundations. Researchers there filed more than 2,000 public-records requests across all 50 states and reviewed nearly 5,000 court documents, official records, and media reports. They found a total of 2,068 alleged cases of voter fraud of all sorts since the year 2000, a period during which there have been more than 600 million votes cast in presidential elections alone. The study described that amount of fraud as "infinitesimal." It in fact works out to a rate of less than 0.0034% - a bit over 3/1000ths of 1 percent. The number of cases of in-person fraud? Ten. Ten out of over 600 million - a rate of less than 0.0000017%, or just under 2 millionths of one percent. Infinitesimal, indeed. And do not forget: These were cases of alleged voter fraud, not of proven voter fraud.

They also looked at the list of 375 claimed cases of voter fraud gathered by the Republican National Lawyers Association, only to find that most of them were just newspaper accounts of alleged fraud. In the list, News21 could find only 77 cases of alleged fraud by voters (as opposed to political parties, election officials, or others) which led to only 33 convictions. How many involved in-person fraud? None. Not one, not even one allegation. The GOPper list was crap.

In fact, the "voter fraud" myth is such a myth than when cornered, even the reactionaries will admit to it. Pennsylvania is one of 10 states that has a restrictive voter photo ID law. (The others are Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.) The state was sued over the law; the trial took place in July and a ruling is expected soon.

The thing is, before the trial began, in a stipulation agreement, Pennsylvania acknowledged 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.
Additionally, Pennsylvania
will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere
or even argue that
that in person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the Photo ID law.
So even before the hearing started, Pennsylvania admitted the claimed basis, the whole claimed purpose, of the law is totally bogus.

But they want to have the law anyway. Why? Well, one argument is that made by Bill Denny, a state representative in Mississippi who sponsored his state’s voter ID bill, who said “Whether you have proof of it or not, what in the heavens is wrong with showing an ID at polls?”

Well, here's what's wrong: About 11% of eligible voters - more than 21 million people - don't have a current, unexpired government-issued ID with a photograph, and - no surprise - seniors, the poor, minorities, and the young are overrepresented in that group. In Pennsylvania, state election officials recently reported that more than 758,000 registered voters in Pennsylvania, about 9.2% of the total number of registered voters in the state, do not have photo identification cards from the state Transportation Department.

The governor's office insists that number is way off and most of those people have other forms of acceptable IDs. But even if the actual number with acceptable ID is half that many, a third that many, a quarter, a tenth - it would still mean that 75,000 people would be improperly denied their right to vote in order to prevent a crime that the state has admitted does not exist.

And according to a new study released just a few weeks ago from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, which studies voting rights, a half-million Americans in the 10 states with strict voter identification laws face serious challenges to obtaining the necessary photo documentation. Again, it is the poor who are the most affected, whose ability to vote is most at risk.

Legal precedent requires these 10 states to provide free photo ID to eligible voters who do not have one. But the fact is that a large number of eligible voters face real difficulties in obtaining that free photo ID. Problems of distance; lack of transportation; the money needed to get the documents to get the it's-not-really-free-then-is-it ID; the limited hours of many of the offices that issue the IDs. This November, states with restrictive voter ID laws will provide 127 electoral votes - nearly half of the 270 needed to win the presidency. The ability of eligible citizens without photo ID to obtain one could have a major influence on the outcome of the 2012 election.

But if even goes beyond that. I just mentioned something about the limited hours of offices issuing the IDs. A ridiculous example of that is that the office in Sauk City, Wisconsin - Governor Walkalloveryou's state - is open only on the fifth Wednesday of any month. But only four months in 2012 - February, May, August, and October - have five Wednesdays. That is, this "free" ID-issuing office is open a total of four days all year.

There you have an example of another way the reactionaries are trying to make it hard for what they consider the "undesirable sort" to vote: Pretend to follow the rules, pretend to be fair, but just make it as inconvenient as you can possibly get away with for targeted people to meet the requirements you set.

Because it's not just about getting ID. Even if you have ID or even if you live in a state without a restrictive ID law, you can still face hurdles designed to hinder you. Consider Ohio. In 2008, Ohio had early voting to avoid the eight and nine hour-long lines there were in 2004, most of which occurred (gasp!) in minority areas. Well, perhaps prompted by those memories, minorities, who went heavily for Obama over McCain in 2008 and will likely do the same for Obama over Romney in 2012, disproportionately took advantage of early voting. So this year, guess what: Early voting has been cut back. Individual counties are now deciding whether to allow extended hours for early voting.

And isn't it amazing that of course by the purest of coincidences, heavily Democratic counties will see early voting hours limited to 8am to 5pm weekdays - while in heavily GOPper counties, hours will include evenings and even weekends. Live in a heavily Democratic county in Ohio, and it's just harder to vote.

Bottom line: These laws and these regulations are not about preventing fraud. So if they're not about preventing voter fraud - which they're not - and they're not about "protecting the integrity of the vote" - which they're not - what are these laws for? Mike Turzai, majority leader of the Pennsylvania House, told us in June. Speaking at a Republican State Committee meeting, he said the state's new voter ID law “is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

That's what these laws are about: They are part of a coordinated campaign to advance the cause of the rightwing, to cement their power and enshrine their greed and indifference to the needs of others, by undermining the basic human right of the vote. It is contemptible - and don't you ever forget it.


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