by Joe Shea
June 2, 2010
IF GAY MARRIAGE, WHY NOT POLYGAMY?
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Over the past few months, there has been a flurry of activity in Republican-controlled state legislatures around the country to pass laws to limit voter access to the polls.
From voter ID and proof of citizenship requirements, to shortening early and absentee voting periods, to banning same-day voter registration, Republicans are working overtime to craft and adopt restrictive laws to discourage people from voting.
Then again, you would expect nothing less from the party that used voter suppression and intimidation, dodgy voting machines, legal and political chicanery, and lies by the truckload to win disputed presidential elections in 2000 and 2004.
Statistically, you're more likely to be hit by lightning than find a documented case of voter fraud. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School found that out of almost 400 million votes cast in general elections in the United States since 2000, only one documented case has been found of someone impersonating someone else at a polling place. There are nine other unresolved cases where impersonation fraud was suspected but not proven.
Ten possible cases of fraud out of a sample of 400 million votes. That's it. And, there's a good chance that clerical errors are to blame, rather than a deliberate attempt to deceive. But that hasn't stopped Republicans from obsessing about voter fraud.
Why? Because the Republican crusade against voting fraud is just camouflage for their real mission - keeping blacks and Hispanics, the elderly, and college-age voters away from the voting booth.
Those are the voters that helped Barack Obama win in 2008. There was a record turnout of new voters, and most of them voted for Democrats. Between the tsunami of new voters, and the increased attention focused on Republican efforts to suppress voter turnout, the Republicans couldn't steal the 2008 election.
With a thoroughly lackluster field of presidential candidates, and growing unease by many Americans over the party's agenda, Republicans are facing significant challenges in 2012. That, more than any other reason, is why there is such concerted effort to make it harder to vote. Quite simply, the higher the turnout, the worse the chances for GOP candidates. That's why the GOP is doing whatever it can to game the system in its favor.
Take early voting. The scenes of 10-hour-long waits at the polls in Ohio in 2004 was a reminder to many voters that showing up on Election Day is no guarantee that you will be cast a ballot, or that it will be counted. That's why about 30 percent of registered voters nationwide took advantage of early voting in the 2008 presidential election. People like to be able to vote on their own schedule, and be assured of avoid long lines on Election Day.
Naturally, Republicans are trying to change the rules. Wisconsin and Florida cut back their early voting periods, and Ohio and North Carolina are looking to do likewise.
Same-day registration is another anathema to Republicans. States that have it usually significantly higher voter turnouts. So states such as Maine have tried to eliminate it, in the name of preventing voter fraud.
And then there are the photo ID rules that have either been adopted or are being considered by 36 states. If you are poor, elderly, or a person of color, you are more likely not to have a government-issued photo ID. The Brennan Center estimates that about 10 percent of the U.S. population lacks proper documentation to satisfy the requirements of these new laws.
As was pointed out earlier in this piece, there has been only one documented case of fraud in the past decade, so this is not an urgent issue. Yet Tennessee, Maine, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin have all passed voter ID laws.
Similar laws are pending in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, North Carolina and Ohio, while governors in Minnesota and Montana recently vetoed their state's version of voter ID laws.
By contrast, here in Vermont, our legislature and our election officials have tried to increase voter participation. There are few unreasonable barriers standing in the way of eligible voters casting ballots. Registration is easy to do, as is early voting. And voting fraud in Vermont is as rare as strawberries growing in February.
That is deliberate, and that is why Vermont routinely has among the highest turnouts in the nation for presidential elections. That is what you get when the election laws are fairly and dispassionately enforced, and when political parties are not allowed to interfere with the process. That has been the case no matter which party controls the Statehouse.
But that is not the norm elsewhere. The ongoing effort by Republican legislatures to roll back voting rights should serve as a reminder that all politics is local. The consequences of having so many of the people who voted for Obama in 2008, but stayed home in the 2010 elections, is that more statehouses are now in Republican hands.
It is these Republican governors and lawmakers that are leading the overreaction to a problem that doesn't exist. The only way to fight back is to undertake a concerted effort to get valid IDs into the hands of the people that Republicans are trying to disenfranchise, and then get these people to the polls next November.
Chief of AR Correspondents Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.