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Fake Georgia ID courtesy of plezWorld

Voting rights remains one of the darker chapters in American history. Recent oral arguments before the Supreme Court suggest we still have a way to go.

The case at issue is Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, an Indiana case that revolves around yet another attempt to restrict voting rights parading under the phantom issue of voter fraud. The Indiana law required voters to present a government-issued photo ID (for example a driver’s license) to insure that there would be no hanky-panky at the polls.

Fueled by a generous amount of hot air, voter fraud has become one of the great red-herring issues of our times. If we are to believe half the propaganda spewing forth about sneaky voters, this country is in danger of being undermined by slimy characters (fill in here your image of slimy) whose sole purpose in life is to go from poll to poll casting multiple ballots. This is fueled by stories dating back to the nineteenth century when party bosses paid people to vote with free drinks and ready cash (which is so-well portrayed in Gangs of New York).

The problem with this empty story is that it has no plot. All of us have watched enough TV crime shows to know every crime has a motive. As the folks on Fred Thompson’s favorite show might say, there are only two possible motives for this crime: money or pure hate, that is, they so hate the other party or candidate they will stop at nothing to make sure they lose.

Like good detectives let’s start with the first motive. Now given that amount of money just spent on the Iowa Caucuses–estimated at $23.7 million in ads by the Democrats alone as of December 28, 2007 by CMG, a firm that tracks political advertising–and the total number who turned out–240,000 Democrats according to Radio Iowa my calculator tells me that amounts to a little less than $100 a voter. If you throw in all the other money spent on staff, events, mailings, etc. you can probably triple that figure. In other words, the Democratic candidates’ going price for an Iowa voter was about $300. Judy Woodruff of the NewsHour did some figuring “on the back of an envelope” and came up with $400 per voter.

Apparently the candidates at least seem to believe the better tactic is to hand millions to TV station owners rather than dole out hundreds directly to voters. But let’s assume they did just decide to buy the votes. Those expenses would have to show up on campaign forms required by law. I suppose you could sneak in a few as “campaign workers,” but a report with 10,000 campaign workers in one state paid $400 each would look pretty silly–and still would not have been enough voters to win Iowa. Political organizations outside the campaign also must fill out tax forms, etc., in which those expenses would also appear. Even America’s current choice for evil bogeyman–corporations–would have to explain $23.7 million to stockholders. So the nineteenth century myth of buying votes seems an impossibility in the twenty-first century–at least for Presidential campaigns.

So that leaves hate as the only motive. This strikes me as almost laughably ironic since the main purveyors of hate in this country right now emanate from the voices of the Raucous Right. In other words, they are paranoid about the other side behaving like they urge their own people to act. I’ve seen that plot a few times on Law and Order. But really, how many hateful people running furiously from poll to poll, and then standing in line for what could be an hour or two, can pull off enough fraud to change an election? Finally, would they even have the time to do it? This demands a bad satire with Eddie Murphy in the starring roles–and I use the plural intentionally because Murphy has made a career of the multiple identity thing.

You don’t have to take my word for it, read the United States Election Commission Report “Election Crimes: An Initial Review and Recommendations for Future Study.” Even in this watered-down report, which caused a national scandal when the authors criticized the Commission for altering their language, the WORST case the report could find in its exhaustive survey of literature, court cases and other evidence was a Milwaukee report:

That report cited evidence of more than 100 individual instances of suspected double-voting, voting in the name of persons who likely did not vote, and/or voting using a name believed to be fake.

So that’s America’s worst case of double-voting: one hundred POSSIBLE sinister PHANTOM Milwaukee voters. If you read the actual report (we do our research here), it paints an entirely different picture:

To date, the investigation has concentrated on the 70,000+ same-day registrations. To date, we have found that a large majority of the reported errors were the result of data entry errors, such as street address numbers being transposed. However, the investigation has found more than 100 instances where votes were cast in a manner suggesting fraud.

Note the language “in a manner suggesting fraud.” Our measly .01 percent of voters may well be phantoms. I’m sure those 100 nasty characters totally altered the entire Milwaukee election!

The Union of Concerned Scientists was so upset by the Election Commission’s intervention into research conclusions it published a “Scientific Integrity” report on the whole affair. It details the specific areas where the Commission changed wording such as:

In a report contracted by the EAC, the experts found little evidence of voter fraud across the nation; the EAC replaced these findings with language injecting uncertainty into the pervasiveness of fraud and downplaying the findings on voter intimidation.

The Union is not dealing with fictional TV scenarios when it notes:

Voter fraud, intimidation, and identification laws are sharply partisan issues.

Many Americans still recall the days when African Americans were prevented from voting by Machiavellian schemes such as the literacy test, in which individuals were subjected to indignities like trying to guess how many jelly beans were in a jar. In recent years the Republicans, who after all came to power on the shoulders of former Dixiecrats, have sought again to discourage people from voting.

To accomplish this, they have borrowed some ammunition from those who used to make people count jelly beans: their new weapon is voter identification. Across the country GOP legislators and officials have worked hard to require that voters bring all sorts of ID to show they are in fact “qualified” to vote. Does the script sound familiar? Just as the Dixiecrats knew it was difficult for anyone to estimate the number of jelly beans in a jar, the GOP knows that many of the poor and people of color do not have IDs or the money to pay for them. Remember the 100,000 people who could not get out of New Orleans during Katrina because they did not have a car? How many of those people do you think had a driver’s license?

Voter ID laws have been popping up all over the country in an election version of the carnival whack-a-mole game as lawyers for the poor and people of color have tried to change these laws so they are economically neutral. Curiously the Carter-Baker Commission on electoral reform did recommend a national voter ID, but Robert Pastor, executive director of the Carter-Baker commission, made it clear that the voter-ID proposal should be enacted only as part of a package with government-funded universal voter registration, and that some Republicans supporting voter ID “are not really serious about making sure that voter ID is free for those who can’t afford it .”

The Indiana law followed the GOP script. The Indiana Secretary of State’s office devotes several web pages to understanding the law. It reminds me of when Fannie Lou Hamer said when she first tried to register to vote they made her read a section from the Georgia State Statutes and then asked her to interpret it. Here’s the page on what forms of ID are OK:

A photo ID must meet 4 criteria to be acceptable for voting purposes. It must:

  1. Display the voter’s photo
  2. Display the voter’s name, and the name must conform with the voter registration record
  3. Display an expiration date and either be current or have expired sometime after the date of the last General Election (November 7, 2006)
  4. Be issued by the State of Indiana or the U.S. government

In most cases, an Indiana driver’s license, Indiana photo ID card, US Passport, or Military ID is sufficient.

A student ID from an Indiana State school may only be used if it meets all of the 4 criteria specified above.

A student ID from a private institution may not be used for voting purposes.

So you tell me, does a photo ID from an Indiana state school meet the criteria? Maybe. And what is an “Indiana State school?” Lest you think this is silly if you can tell me whether Vincennes University-Jasper is a state school you probably know quite a bit about Indiana Higher Education. But imagine yourself a poll watcher and someone brings you an ID from that school, do you let them vote?

Laughable scenarios aside, there is another serious dimension of this. My son, who teaches adult literacy in Washington, D.C. for Americorps, tells me something about why these web pages are totally irrelevant to potential Indiana voters who are poor. First, none of them have computers or Internet access, so how do they even find out what is acceptable? Second, many of them do not possess any of those forms of ID.

Finally, remember that all of this effort is designed to catch that phantom .01 percent whose “votes were cast in a manner suggesting fraud.” It is the political equivalent of arresting someone for jaywalking. Actually it’s worse than that. A 2007 study by the Eagleton Institute of Politics of Rutgers University and the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University found:

Data showed that registered voters in states that require photo identification as a maximum requirement were 2.9 percent less likely to say they had voted compared to registered voters in states that required voters to state their names.

You do the math. To catch .01 percent we are going to deter 2.9 percent from voting. Obviously even if you enforced the Indiana law, its impact on voting will be to discourage 300 times more people than it catches! Now what kind of law is that and who do you suppose that favors?

In Part Two we will see how the Supreme Court responded in oral argument. Have your jelly beans ready.

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