Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Voter suppression

"Voting is the most precious right of every citizen, and we have a moral obligation to ensure the integrity of our voting process." Hillary Clinton

THERE ARE TWO things that are important to know about voter ID laws that are being passed in states around the country:

1) They are first and foremost a way to suppress the vote in low-income and non-white voter segments. 

2) Voter fraud happens so infrequently, that it's a non-problem.

Using IDs to combat voter fraud sounds so reasonable on the face of it. 

As Benjamin Ries, a writer for the Vanderbilt University student press, put it, "The recent wave of voter ID laws enjoys widespread popular support because of the intuitively harmless nature of the idea."

He goes on to ask, "Doesn’t everyone, after all, have easy access to valid forms of ID? And aren’t these ID laws a logical solution to the serious issue of voter fraud?" 

Here's why the answer to both questions is "NO!"

The first no:

A July 5 Philadelphia Inquirer article reported that "758,000 registered voters in Pennsylvania do not have the ID a new state law requires to vote." 

Benjamin also points out that ". . . many elderly voters in some states were born when birth certificates were not kept. Obtaining one often requires the payment of a fee. Another problem to many potential voters is that poll workers occasionally do not know the law. Just last week, a Tennessee State employee tried to use her state-issued employee photo ID to vote and was unlawfully turned away. In Ohio, organizations routinely challenge the voting registrations of citizens, who are then required to show up in court to clear their name."

Here's the second no:

"According to a Department of Justice study, out of the 197 million votes cast for federal candidates between 2002 and 2005, only 40 voters were indicted for voter fraud (and) only 26 of those cases, or about .00000013 percent of the votes cast, resulted in convictions or guilty pleas." (ABC News 9/12/12)

What's more, voter ID laws would counteract only one type of voter fraud known as in-person voter impersonation. 

How often does that happen?

"The analysis of 2,068 reported fraud cases by News21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, found 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation since 2000. With 146 million registered voters in the United States, those represent about one for every 15 million prospective voters." (The Washington Post, 8/11/12)

"Over the past decade Texas has convicted 51 people of voter fraud, according to the state's Attorney General Greg Abbott. Only four of those cases were for voter impersonation, the only type of voter fraud that voter ID laws prevent." (ABC News 9/12/12)

So what are voter ID laws really designed to do?

They're designed to engineer elections by suppressing voting by groups that traditionally have been more likely to vote Democratic

As Benjamin Ries wrote in his October 29 column, "Voter ID laws do virtually nothing to prevent fraud while unfairly burdening the poor, the elderly and minorities. They are part of an elaborate con job aimed at convincing well-meaning Americans that large-scale voter fraud exists and that voter ID laws address this problem."

According to the Department of Justice, data from South Carolina indicate "minority registered voters are nearly 20% more likely to lack DMV-issued ID than white registered voters." (Media Matters

In Florida, a big prize in the presidential election just one week away, Republican Gov. Rick Scott led the State Legislature in a successful effort to diminish early voting opportunities. The New York Times writes that they were able to "eliminate six days of early voting this year — including the Sunday before Election Day, which had been the traditional day to mobilize black congregations. In 2008, black voters cast early ballots at twice the rate of white voters, and turned out in significant strength on the Sunday before Election Day." 

If you think this is an isolated incident, think again. 

Here's a report from Think Progress written a week ago that ought to make you want to take to the streets:

With two weeks to Election Day, voters in critical swing states are being inundated with false information and intimidating messages meant to discourage them from voting. While shenanigans have been reported in every election, voting rights advocates say efforts to confuse and intimidate voters are taking an even more prominent role this year.

Phone voting. 
Residents in Florida, Indiana and Virginia are receiving mysterious phone calls telling them they can vote by phone instead of going to the polls. Virginia’s board of elections has received at least 10 complaints, mostly from seniors, though the total number of people affected by these calls is unclear.

Fake voter purge letters. 

Also in Florida, a mass mailing of fake letters questioning voters’ citizenship is being investigated. The letter, written on fake letterhead of a local county’s Supervisor of Elections, tells recipients in 23 counties to fill out a “voter eligibility form” with their Social Security information, Florida drivers licence number, and addresses. The letter claims the recipients must send the form to the Supervisor of Elections within 15 days or be purged from the rolls — mimicking actual purge letters ordered by Florida governor Rick Scott (R) challenging 200 Floridians’ citizenship.

Intimidating billboards. Dozens of billboards warning that voter fraud is a felony popped up suddenly in predominantly African American and Latino neighborhoods of Cleveland, Ohio earlier this month. The message, which includes the prison sentence and fine for voter fraud, is likely targeting former felons who do have the right to vote in Ohio. The company, Clear Channel Outdoor, announced they would take down intimidating voter fraud billboards after the sponsor refused to come forward. The company is also donating 10 billboards declaring, “Voting is a Right. Not a Crime!”

Photo of a billboard that appeared in Cleveland, OH.

Misleading voter ID ads. Though a judge ruled that Pennsylvania voters without a photo ID could still cast a regular ballot, state-sponsored ads have continued to tell residents they must show an ID. These ads are aired on television and radio, at posters at the DMV, and were mailed to thousands of seniors via a state prescription drug program. A billboard targeting Spanish speakers also continues to misleadingly promote the ID requirement.
Employer pressure. Several CEOs are pressuring their employees to vote for Romney by suggesting they will be forced to fire workers if Obama wins the election. While employers used to be banned from directly expressing political opinions to employees, the Supreme Court changed that with its 2010 Citizens United ruling. Workers have reported being pressured to vote, donate, and attend Romney rallies by their bosses.

If you're not steamed, why aren't you?? Is this or is this not America? Below is a map from the National Conference of State Legislatures showing which states have enacted voter ID laws and what each state is requiring. 

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1 comment:

  1. Very detailed and recommended reading - unfortunately each state and locality within the state has its own laws and procedures - thanks for the post.