Something I've talked about before is in the news again: efforts by states to restrict the right to vote - or, more specifically, efforts by the right wing to keep certain types of people from voting. People like, the poor, minorities, students - people they think won't vote for them so they want to keep them from voting at all. In fact, I've been talking for more than six years about the right-wing's use of bogus claims of "voter fraud" as an excuse to restrict the ability of disfavored people to vote.
Okay, so how rare is voter fraud? Just how bogus are the claims? Actual fraud, knowingly voting illegally or to knowingly illegally voting more than once in an election, is almost nonexistent. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, which studies voting issues, it's measured in tiny fractions of a percent and by tiny I mean a few thousandths of a percent or less.
For example, a Department of Justice study from a few years ago of federal elections for the period of 2002-2005 found just 26 cases of convictions for any form of voter fraud. During that same time, there were around 197 million votes cast in those elections: That a "fraud rate" of 0.000013% - just over 1/100,000 of 1%.
More recently, in August Justin Levitt, a professor at the Loyola University Law School, described how he for years had been tracking allegations of fraud in general, primary, special, and municipal elections across the country and how he had found since 2000 some 31 different incidents of credible accusations of voter fraud - out of more than 1 billion ballots cast in that time. That's a fraud rate of 0.0000031% - 3 millionths of a percent. And that's assuming all those 31 cases really are fraud.
Meanwhile, in just four states that have held just a few elections under their harsh ID laws, more than 3,000 votes in general elections alone have been affirmatively rejected for lack of the required ID. Which of course doesn’t include voters without ID who for that reason just didn’t show up. No fraud prevented, thousands of legitimate voters turned away.
In fact, the evidence for massive voter fraud is so embarrassingly scant that the r/w has started to float an entirely different excuse: It's not about fraud, it's about "consistency" and "fairness" and "uniformity" and yet somehow these entirely different issues, these entirely different concerns - gasp what a surprise - require exactly the same sort of "fixes" and "reforms" that have exactly the same sort of impacts on poor and minority voters.
And if you don't believe this is part of a conscious strategy on the part of our homegrown reactionaries to try to put the fix in the election system so that it always tilts in their favor, consider this:
In the five years preceding the 2012 election, almost half of states enacted some form of legislation restricting voter access such as requiring photo identification or proof of citizenship to vote, more stringently regulating voter registration drives, shortening early voting periods, repealing same-day voter registration, or other methods that have their greatest impact on the poor and minorities, the very people the right wing wishes it could keep from voting entirely.
To cite just one example, a study by the Brennan Center a few years ago found that about 7% of American adults - about 13 million people - do not have ready access to the sort of citizenship papers these restrictive laws are increasingly demanding in order to register to vote, a burden that falls especially hard on the poor: While 7 percent of adults lack such proof of citizenship, 12% of poor adults do. And even if they could get them, the financial burden of doing so is sometimes prohibitive.
Meanwhile, by the way, less than half of voting-age women with access to a US birth certificate have one with their current legal name, women being another group the right wing would love to see kept out of the voting booth.
Even a study preferred by the reactionary Heritage Foundation found that “registered voters without photo IDs tended to be female, African-American, and Democrat.”
A study last year by sociologist Keith Bentele and political scientist Erin O’Brien, both of UMass Boston, found that, quoting them,
restrictions on voting derived from both race and class. The more that minorities and lower-income individuals in a state voted, the more likely such restrictions were to be proposed. Where minorities turned out at the polls at higher rates the legislation was more likely enacted.Put another way, the more the turnout among minorities and poor increased in the 2008 election in states controlled by the right wing, the more likely restrictions were to be passed before 2012 election. Again quoting the researchers:
Ultimately, recently enacted restrictions on voter access have not only a predictable partisan pattern but also an uncomfortable relationship to the political activism of blacks and the poor.All the talk about massive voter fraud is bogus, it is a lie being consciously and deliberately spread by right wing for the conscious and deliberate purpose of making it harder for groups such as minorities and the poor - along with women and students - to vote.
The right wing knows this; when they are talking to each other, they don't even try to hide it.
Paul Weyrich, founder of the American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC), the right-wing organization pushing these laws, declared at a convention of Evangelical Republicans several years ago that “I don’t want everybody to vote. ... As a matter of fact, our [i.e., the reactionaries'] leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
For a time this spring it looked as though the effort had reached it's apogee and was starting to fade.
In April, a federal court struck down Wisconsin's voter ID law and Gov. Scott WalkAllOverYou, who had threated to call special session of the legislature to revise the law to get around an expected adverse decision, was forced to admit that couldn't do it in time for the 2014 election.
In May, Pennsylvania gave up, announcing it would not appeal a state court decision from January striking down Pennsylvania's voter ID law.
Also in May, the GOPper Attorney General of Iowa was forced to admit that after spending $250,000 and two years trying to find proof of massive voter fraud in order to justify a voter photo ID law in the state, had come up with just 27 voters charged with voter fraud - none of them for voter impersonation, the only kind that a photo ID requirement would affect. That's 27 out of more than 1.5 million votes cast: a "fraud rate" of less that 2/1000 of 1 percent.
And then in June, a petition drive in Nevada to get a voter ID question on the November ballot stalled.
But any celebration was premature.
In March, a US District Court ruling said that Kansas and Arizona can force new voters to show citizenship documents when they register to vote, as opposed to signing a legal oath on the federal voter registration form, as they could do previously.
“State election officials maintain authority to determine voter eligibility,” according to District Judge Eric Melgren, and apparently the right to be free of discriminatory requirements be damned. “Arizona and Kansas have established that their state laws require their election officials to assess the eligibility of voters by examining proof of their US citizenship beyond a mere oath.” Which strikes me as an exceedingly odd argument in that it more or less says that these state laws are justified because they are state laws.
If decision upheld by higher courts, would mean that residents in these and other states with similar laws, like Georgia and Alabama, would have to present something like a passport or a birth certificate, the very sort of documents poor folks and minorities are more likely to lack, in order to register to vote. A driver’s license, college ID, or a signature given under penalty of perjury would no longer suffice.
In April, the Elections Department of Miami-Dade County, Florida's most populous, responded to an inquiry about if they had assessed accessibility of polling place bathrooms to those with disabilities by instituting a policy of closing all restrooms at all polling places in the county. So when you're faced with one of those 6-hour long lines like people were in 2012, make sure you're wearing your depends.
But the real reason for bringing this up now is the harsh one-two punch received by those of us who can still recall when the argument was over how to get more people to vote, not over how many hoops we would make people - certain people - jump through in order to do it.
The first blow came in mid-September: In what was called a stunningly fast decision, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Wisconsin's discriminatory voter photo ID law - just hours after a three-judge panel heard oral arguments. This was the law that had been shot down in May. The appeals court didn't rule on the law itself, rather, it said "The State of Wisconsin may, if it wishes, enforce the photo ID requirement in this November's elections" while the appeals about the law itself continue. Right. "If it wishes." Like that was a question.
So of course Wisconsin is doing just that. Which is causing some degree of chaos among that state's local election officials who now have to scramble to meet the demands of the law and face the prospect of massive confusion on election day and having to figure out what to do about absentee ballots that were already sent out under the old rules, which were in force until the 7th Circuit decided it just couldn't wait to turn loose the forces of legal voter suppression.
The clearest winner here is reactionary Gov. Scott WalkAllOverYou, who is in a tight re-election race and wants every advantage he can get.
The second blow really shows just how eager the right-wingers are to secure their victories as they rush to make sure their plans are in place for this year's election:
Early in September, Federal District Judge Peter Economus blocked the attempt by the state of Ohio to restrict early voting. Particularly important were the "Golden Week," during which people can register and vote on the same day, and Sunday voting.
On September 29, literally just sixteen hours before early voting was to begin, the foul five on the supreme court, the disgusting denizens of the court's right wing majority, stayed that order and let Ohio institute its cutbacks on early voting, including getting rid of Golden Week
Remember because this is important: It is a documented fact that minorities take more advantage of early voting than non-minorities do. Which means that the more you restrict early voting, the more you restrict minority voting.
That's what this is about. That's why so many of these new restrictive laws look to take back the early voting that was created to encourage people to vote and reduce the shamefully long lines on election day itself. And that's why the Supreme Court, or at least a majority of the Court, was so eager to let Ohio get on with it.
If they don't think you will vote for them, they will try to keep you from voting at all. That's what all this is about. And don't you ever forget it.
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