Friday, November 02, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle - Part 4

Update on Voter ID

I've got two brief updates on Voter ID laws.

Something else I told you about two weeks ago was that we'd finally found some voter fraud, accusations of supposed voter fraud being the excuse the right wing is using to suppress voting rights among liberal-leaning constituencies like minorities and the poor. Unfortunately for the right wing, the voter fraud that was uncovered in Florida was committed by an outfit hired by the Republican National Committee to do voter registration.

Well, now we have more bad news for the wingnuts.

On Friday, October 19, a man working for the Virginia Republican party was charged with 13 counts of destruction of voter registration forms, disclosure of voter registration information, and obstruction of justice.

His name is Colin Small and he was caught throwing out voter registration forms because he did it in the wrong place. He threw a bag of them in a dumpster reserved for the private use of a local company. An employee saw Small do it, got annoyed because he wasn't supposed to be throwing stuff in there, and investigated.

The local Sheriff's office said there was "no indication that this activity was widespread in our jurisdiction," but as others have noted, there really is no way to tell how many additional registrations forms may have been dumped there or elsewhere in the state. Maybe none, maybe hundreds. The Virginia GOPpers all, of course, were just shocked - shocked - to discover this going on in their state, even though they had already fired the outfit that was caught filing false forms in Florida. (Small, by the way, worked for that company before being hired by the Virginia GOPpers.)

Something to add here is that this is much worse than filing false registrations because, as I noted two weeks ago, unreal people living at unreal addresses are not going to show up at the polls to vote. In this sort of case, real people at real addresses who really thought they had registered would find themselves unable to vote. Which also makes it several orders of magnitude worse than the all-but-nonexistent crime of in-person voter fraud.

The second update is that a while back I told you that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had overturned a decision by a lower court judge that allowed the state's photo ID law, one of the most restrictive in the nation, to go into effect. The court sent the case back to that lower court with instructions for reconsideration that essentially required that judge, one Robert Simpson, to enjoin - that is, block - implementation of the law until after election day. Simpson, given no choice, did that the beginning of October, which is of course good news.

But that news is heavily tainted by what I haven't told you: In that new ruling, Simpson said he was going to let what he called "the good parts" of the bill stand. As a result, you do not need a photo ID to vote in the November elections in Pennsylvania, and you will vote with a regular ballot, not a provisional one. However, you will still be asked for ID. Even though you don't need it. What's more, and this is what is so offensive about Simpson's ruling, it not only allowed you to be asked for ID, it also allowed the state to continue its advertising campaign which specifically told people they needed to show photo ID to vote. The ad starts with people saying "If you care about the election," about making a difference and so on, followed by a series of visuals of those same people flashing photo IDs with the line "Show it!" It was weeks before the state changed those commercials, and all it did was add the line "You will be asked, but not required, to show an acceptable photo ID on election day" at the end.

In short, both Judge Simpson and the state of Pennsylvania have out of their way to do, to affect the law, as little as possible. They have done as much as they can get away with to still hint, to suggest, to give people the idea that "no ID equals no vote." This idea is still so much in circulation that on October 18, a newspaper in the state published an article saying photo ID is required and the week before, thousands of Pennsylvania seniors received a mailing from a program administered by the state Department of Aging that stated that photo ID is required to vote. It's bad enough and the state's response has been sluggish enough that at the end of last week - we're talking about two and a-half weeks before election day - the ACLU filed a motion asking the state courts to order the state to stop distributing false information.

I know I've been talking about voter ID stuff a lot, but I really think it's important and I don't understand why there is not more outrage over all this. I don't understand why we as a nation have moved so easily, so quickly, from the question "How can we encourage people to vote" to "How can we restrict people from voting." Can it be that so many people just take the idea of the right to vote that lightly? Or is it that they hear right wing horror stories, listen the the fairy tales and fables of "voter fraud," and go "sure, why not have voter ID" because, after all, they themselves already have the ID and so it doesn't affect them and they just don't care how it affects anyone else?

This will not end with the election. It will remain an issue. The right wing knows that it's best chance to gain and maintain political power - that is, to not just influence government through its economic power and social position but to actually hold the reins of government - its best chance is to as much as possible limit voting the the elite. There was a time in this country when to vote you had to be a white male property-holder. I don't see any real chance of reverting to that - although I can envision the right wing arguing that you have to own property in order to vote because only property owners have "a real stake in the community" - but I can see a real chance, particularly with the growth of classism, which I will talk a little about next week, of becoming a society where those who most need society's support - the elderly but even more the poor and minorities - are not only as a practical matter but also as a legal matter the least able to gain that society's attention. That must not be allowed to happen.

One of the supposed ethical principles of our justice system is that, as phrased most famously but not originally by William Blackstone, it's "better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer." Better ten guilty people be acquitted than one innocent person be wrongly convicted. Don't get hung up, as I have seem some do, on the ratio: The base principle is that one guilty person escaping and one innocent person being punished are not moral equivalents; the latter is far worse than the former.

Here we have the same sort of principle, but the ratios are more than reversed: Cases of in-person voter fraud, the only kind possibly affected by the new photo ID laws, are miniscule; a recent study turned up only 10 proven such cases nationwide since 2000. Even alleged cases, never mind proven, just alleged cases, count in no more than the hundreds over that same time. By contrast, recently-passed voting restrictions - some of which have been shot down or temporarily blocked by the courts - could have disenfranchised something over 5 million eligible voters. So the ratio here is better one person get away with in-person voter fraud than 500,000 eligible voters be blocked from voting.


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