What’s Wrong Today:
There has been a concerted effort to raise the bar on who is eligible to vote over the past 20 years and it is proving to be a big success. Depending on your ideology, this is “eliminating massive voter fraud” or “voter suppression”.
While recent efforts to tighten the rules about who can vote have been ongoing since the 1990’s, the GOP really began to influence perceptions in 2008 by claiming that various registration organizations including ACORN were actively recruiting armies of fake voters to misrepresent themselves at the polls and cast illegal ballots for Democrats . Republicans used this contention (and others), to mobilize an effort to change the voting process in states where they controlled the legislatures. However in reality, neither ACORN nor anyone else registers voters. They conduct registration drives in which people fill out registration forms, but the actual validation of the information is by law, the purview of state and local election boards. In fact, groups conducting registration drives are prohibited from making inquiries about citizenship status, place of residence, or anything else. Top of Form
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Since 2009, a dozen states have approved new obstacles to voting. See Source Here. Kansas and Alabama now require would-be voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering. Florida and Texas made it harder for groups like the League of Women Voters to register new voters. Maine repealed Election Day voter registration, which had been on the books since 1973. Five states – Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia – cut short their early voting periods. Florida and Iowa barred all ex-felons from the polls. And six states– Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin – will require voters to produce a government-issued ID before casting ballots. More than 10 percent of U.S. citizens lack such identification, and the numbers are even higher among constituencies that traditionally lean Democratic – including 18 percent of young voters and 25 percent of African-Americans.
A little background:
Who has the right to vote? Is the right to vote really a right? How has the right to vote been modified or changed over time? In colonial times, it was common practice that the only individuals with the right to vote were white men who owned property. A man was a male over the age of 21. But, there are documented cases in colonial America where women had the right to vote. See Source Here. Usually, they were widows of landowners. There were religious tests of varying kinds in most colonies, both before and after the adoption of the Constitution and a race test existed everywhere. Even today America does not have universal suffrage and never has had it.
The United States Constitution leaves the determination of voter qualifications to the individual states. However, various congresses, presidents and the American public gradually extended the federal government’s role in the question of who has the right to vote over the years. See the Six Amendments that amended voting rights here . These Amendments changed who had the right to vote as they became law.
So, is the right to vote really a right? The “right to vote” is implicitly understood in the U.S. Constitution and in the Amendments, but only by prohibiting certain forms of voter discrimination in establishing qualifications for suffrage. However, an individual’s “right to vote” can be denied in any state for many reasons. For example, states require eligible citizens to register to vote a set number of days prior to the election in order to qualify to vote. More controversial restrictions include those laws that prohibit felons from voting or, as seen in Bush v. Gore among others, disputes as to what rules should apply in counting or recounting ballots.
So What’s Wrong?
The problem is that the statistics do not support the perception that voter fraud is a huge problem. Statistically, Americans are more likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning than to be convicted of voter fraud.
According to Salon, from 2002 to 2005 only one person was found guilty of registration fraud. Twenty people were found guilty of voting while ineligible and five people were found guilty of voting more than once. That’s 26 criminal voters — voters who vote twice, impersonate other people, vote without being a resident – these are the voters that Republicans are warning us about. Meanwhile thousands of people are getting turned away at the polls. See Source Here.
According to The Brennan Center for Justice, nationwide since October 2002, only 86 individuals in total have been convicted of federal crimes relating to election fraud (including several offenses not remedied by ID requirements), while 196,139,871 ballots have been cast in federal general elections.
In fact just f
ifty-two people were convicted of federal election fraud for voting in multiple locations between 2002-2006.
(NOTE: these numbers are different due to different periods analyzed, but the total of all convictions is still less than 00.00005% of those who unlawfully voted above)
The New York Times reported this in 2007:
The perception is that voter fraud is a rampant problem: A Rassmussen Reports survey in October 2004 found that: 14% of those surveyed said there is “a lot” of fraud in American elections, while by 2008, the Congressional Cooperative Election Study showed that 62% thought that vote fraud was very common or somewhat common, up 48% in 4 years. (Again, the data are not completely consistent). Interestingly, both surveys showed that 28% thought there was hardly any fraud.
Clearly, the perception machine has driven the average American’s belief that we must act or we will lose our democracy. This is a systematic effort to make people think that “the mob is at the gates”, to make people believe that there is rampant voter fraud when there is absolutely no evidence to substantiate the belief.
Gone Baby, Gone
We like to say that we are part of the “Reality –based Community”, and that reality and fact will win out. That thinking is only true in the rear view mirror. There is a substantial and powerful group of politicians and fellow travelers that have moved the country far beyond facts to a perception-controlled reality for a very large portion of our citizens. As Ron Susskind reported in an October 17, 2004, The New York Times Magazine article, quoting an unnamed aide to George W. Bush (later attributed to Karl Rove):
“The aide said that guys like me (Susskind) were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’… ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’
Come Election Day 2012, this flood of new laws will be in place, implemented primarily by Republicans who are driving the perception machine. Instead of a single fiasco in Florida, there could be chaos in a dozen states as would-be voters find themselves barred from the polls.
And it would be So Wrong.