Sunday, January 8, 2012

Voter Fraud or Voter Suppression?

Does voter fraud exist or is it used as a pretext for voter suppression?  And do voter ID laws constitute a poll tax, which was abolished by the 24th amendment?

Recently the ACLU brought a federal lawsuit against Wisconsin on constitutional grounds.  It alleged that the Wisconsin voter ID law strictly limiting the acceptable forms of identification which enabled a citizen to exercise his or her right to vote violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment.

Wisconsin will only accept:
State Photo ID
Wisconsin Driver’s License

It will not accept:
Driver’s license issued by another state
Veterans ID cards
Public assistance benefit cards
Employer-issued photo IDs

A spokesman for Wisconsin Governor Walker said that its voter ID law is constitutional.  The Supreme Court opened the floodgates in 2008 when it upheld Indiana’s strict voter ID law in Crawford v. Marion County, stating that the burden on voters was offset by the benefits of reducing the risk of fraud.

Many states are simultaneously instituting new voter ID laws, including Wisconsin, Texas, South Carolina and Mississippi, mostly requiring state issued photo ID cards.  They will take effect right before the states’ primaries.

Is the burden negligible compared to voter fraud prevention?  A cursory look at the facts shows that the burden can be high indeed and the chance of voter fraud unlikely.

The obstacles can be considerable, particularly for someone without a car or a birth certificate.  In many cases you cannot get a birth certificate without a photo ID, so you have to navigate a maze of bureaucracies which may extend to different states.  You may not have to pay for a state-issued photo ID but you can incur other fees along the way.

Wisconsin offers free state IDs but you have to pay $20 for a certified copy of your birth certificate.

Plaintiff Ruthelle Frank, 84, has voted in every election since 1948.  She doesn’t have a birth certificate and her birth records show her name is misspelled.  It might cost $200 or more to straighten out the situation.

The new voter ID laws act as de facto poll taxes because of the fees and other costs incurred, including time, which may require absence from employment in order to obtain the highly specific forms of identification necessary in order to vote.

For the elderly or the disabled this can be an almost insurmountable obstacle.  Often students can’t use their college-issued photo IDs so they too will have to navigate the bureaucracy.  This is at a time when government spending for the very departments necessary to process such records has been slashed.

The only conceivable type of voter fraud that voter IDs can prevent is someone impersonating someone else. 

As the Brennan Center for Law and Justice pointed out in an exhaustive study, impersonations at the polls are:

[A]n occurrence more rare than getting hit by lightning,” or about one in 280,000.  Actual cases of double-voting are even rarer:
For example, the study found that actual fraud rate among several hundred alleged New York State double-voters between 2000 and 2004 was 0.0000009%.
“Voter fraud” is used as a rallying cry to impose strict voting requirements which disproportionately affect traditional core Democratic voters, who are less likely to possess state-issue photo IDs: 15% of citizens earning less than $35,000 and 25% of African Americans, for example.  Those earning more than $35,000 are twice as likely to possess IDs; whites are nearly 3x as likely.  Voter ID laws disproportionately affect students, women, seniors and communities of color.  An analysis of voting patterns in the 2004 election showed the attrition:

Recently, election experts at Rutgers and Ohio State universities found that states that had implemented voter ID laws saw a 3 percent across-the-board reduction in voter turnout during the 2004 presidential election. The drop was worse among minorities: African-American turnout was depressed by 5.7 percent and Hispanic turnout was depressed by 10 percent.

You may wonder, why are so many states attempting to impose voter ID laws at the same time?  That is because the politicians in those states owe their allegiance not to the voters but to their benefactors, particularly ALEC.

According to its website, ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) purports to be a nonpartisan individual membership organization of state legislators which favors federalism and conservative public policy solutions.  ALEC is actually a Koch (and other corporate)-financed group which creates and disseminates legislation through its hand-picked politicians. 

This is why the attempts to implement these voter ID laws are occurring simultaneously.  Their minions move in lockstep.  During the standoff in Wisconsin against Governor Walker’s ultimately successful attempt to strip public workers of their right to collective bargaining, the only person whose call Gov. Walker took was that of a David Koch impersonator.

ALEC and its tribunes will not rest until the entire Democratic party constituency is eliminated.  The ACLU is a lone, brave organization.  Unless the Department of Justice gets involved in upholding enfranchisement, voter suppression will continue.


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