Voters going to the polls this year will encounter new rules, with photo ID requirements and fewer options for early voting among the most significant changes. These are part of a wave of new laws enacted in 33 states by Republican-controlled legislatures. Supporters say these new rules are required to endure honest elections. Democrats say it's part of a GOP campaign to supress the vote, especially among the poor, disabled, and elderly. Eight states so far in 2012 have enacted new laws requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls. The Pennsylvania law to this effect has been ruled to be legally valid by a federal judge. The case is being appealed.
This escalation of voting protection in the national consciousness began with a milestone centered in Missouri following the chaos of Election Day 2000 in Saint Louis, where a large number of would-be voters were turned away from the polling places when their names were not on voting rolls. A last-minute court battle left the polls open for 45 minutes later than the scheduled closing time of 7 p.m. John Ashcroft, then a Republican candidate for the U. S. senate, lost to a dead Democratic candidate, who perished in a plane crash shortly before the election, and whose name was not removed from the official ballot. The Republicans, led by Senator Kip Bond, were infuriated, charging that Ashcroft has lost due to "dogs and dead people," a St. Louis phrase that is associated with black people voting fraudulently.
That confusion and fury led to a new right-wing movement to strike out voting fraud, with Missouri the emotional ground zero. Missouri's then-Secretary of State Matt Blunt, who served as governor from 2005-2009, began an investigation that concluded that more than 1,000 fraudelent ballots were cast in an organized scheme. However a Justice Department Civil Rights Division investigation found no fraudulent voting, and instead that St.Louis election board officials had improperly purged 50,000 voters from the rolls of eligible voters.
This movement gained to cut our election fraud gained national stature and breadth in October, 2002,when the same John Ashcroft, now Attorney-General of the United Stated under President George Bush, launched an intensive "Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Act Initiative," which required all U.S. attorney offices to coordinate with local officials in combating voter fraud. This led to 24 people being convicted between elections from 2002 to 2005. No one was even charged with impersonating another voter, and only 14 non-citizens were convicted of illegally voting in a federal election during that time—mostly because they didn't understand English instructions.
So where are we now. Is this a threat to American democracy, as loud voices claim? As I write this, the state of South Carolina's law, passed last year, which requires specific photo identification to be shown in order to vote, was rejected by the Justice Department. South Carolina is appealing. The state of Texas has passed among the strictest laws on voter's ID. The statute is awaiting clearance by a three-panel court in D.C. now.
The genesis of the movement and the acceleration of efforts to cleanse the land of improper and illegal voting is clear. As Republicans elect more members of state legislatures, among the first things the body does is to turn its attention to the "problem" of fraudulent voting. This sounds perfectly American, just as solid and proper an initiative as apple pie. But let's examine it a bit more.
Using data compiled by the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law,
there are numerous categories of "voter fraud." These involve, by definition, would-be voters attempting to cast ballots knowing they are ineligible to vote, in an attempt to defraud the electoral system. A long list of irregularities has been investigated, including the following: errors in the poll records, errors in the registration records, partial name matching, birthdate errors or confusion, dual registration when people move, death record errors, criminal records, "nixie" returned mail when voters move and do not leave a forwarding address, unusual addresses including shelters and the like, etc.
In Wisconsin, the 2004 claims of voter fraud of all categories have been investigated thoroughly. In the end, seven substantiated cases of fraud were confirmed, or 0.0002% in the state, all of them felons voting. None of these would have been prevented with a photo-ID card.
In New Jersey in the 2004 elections, eight substatiated cases of illegal voting were found, all of them people voting twice. These were 0.0004% of the votes cast, and none of these would have been prevented with a photo-ID card.
In the 2000 general election in Missouri, six cases of fraud were confirmed, all six resulting from four voters voting twice, six of the cased in Missouri and two of the cases taking place across the state line in Kansas. The Missouri irregularities resulted in 0.0003% of the total votes. None of these would have been prevented by photo-IDs.
The movement feels good to those who inherently fear a wave of illegal voting. But the data do not confirm the threat, and even more, the "solution" of voter photo-ID cards does not prevent the problems shown to exist. So can we assume this is a patriotic "feel good" movement that, while it has been shown to assure little to no more polling integrity, does no harm? Unfortunately, that is not the case.
The scope of this campaign goes far beyond requiring photo-ID verification. It also shortens the absentee voting period in many states, and eliminates registering on election day. It also prevents voting on the weekend prior to election day in Ohio and other states, since the day was a busy day for African-Americans to be bused to early voting following church services. Many of these people are poor, elderly, or handicapped, and need transportation.It's hard to justify this as preventing illegal voting.
In addition, twists such as preventing people who walk into the wrong polling place from being redirected to their proper voting location have been written into law.
Florida enacted a law that imposed penalties on organizations that conduct independent voter registration drives. Most of this law was struck down by the courts, but it resulted in the League of Women Voters, hardly a partisan group, stopping their voter registration drives in Florida for several months. Again, does this sound like it protects the integrity of the American electoral system.
It has been estimated by the League of Women Voters and others that the photo-ID requirement will impact one in six Latino voters, U.S. Citizens who have never had a photo ID. In addition, one in four Black voters do not possess a photo-ID, mainly because they are elderly. Overall, one in ten Americans do not possess a photo-ID. Most estimates are that this movement, including photo-ID requirement, the elimination of early voting periods, and restrictions on voter registration drives, ostensibly to preserve the integrity of elections, will result in somewhere between two million and three million fewer votes by Latinos and Blacks nationwide.
To me, this is clearly a coordinated movement by the conservatives to affect the election by reducing the ability of a block of voters likely to vote Democratic. You are free to form your own conclusions, but please do so with data and facts. I have not used polemic words here.