Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It's About Preventing Liberals From Voting

There have been quite a few attempts by the GOP in recent years to impose various barriers to voting. But the fact is, after years of caterwauling about systemic Democratic voter fraud, they have been unable to find any examples of such. In fact, one of the best pieces of journalism on this subject was published in the last several days:
True the Vote, which was founded in 2009 and is based in Houston, describes itself as a nonprofit organization, created “by citizens for citizens,” that aims to protect “the rights of legitimate voters, regardless of their political party.” Although the group has a spontaneous grassroots aura, it was founded by a local Tea Party activist, Catherine Engelbrecht, and from the start it has received guidance from intensely partisan election lawyers and political operatives, who have spent years stoking fear about election fraud. This cohort—which Roll Call has called the “voter fraud brain trust”—has filed lawsuits, released studies, testified before Congress, and written op-ed columns and books. Since 2011, the effort has spurred legislative initiatives in thirty-seven states to require photo identification to vote.

Engelbrecht has received especially valuable counsel from one member of the group: Hans von Spakovsky. A Republican lawyer who served in the Bush Administration, he is now a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank. “Hans is very, very helpful,” Engelbrecht said. “He’s one of the senior advisers on our advisory council.” Von Spakovsky, who frequently appears on Fox News, is the co-author, with the columnist John Fund, of the recent book “Who’s Counting?,” which argues that America is facing an electoral-security crisis. “Election fraud, whether it’s phony voter registrations, illegal absentee ballots, vote-buying, shady recounts, or old-fashioned ballot-box stuffing, can be found in every part of the United States,” they write. The book connects these modern threats with sordid episodes from the American past: crooked inner-city machines, corrupt black bosses in the Deep South. Von Spakovsky and Fund conclude that electoral fraud is a “spreading” danger, and declare that True the Vote serves “an obvious need.”

Mainstream election experts say that Spakovsky has had an improbably large impact. Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine, and the author of a recent book, “The Voting Wars,” says, “Before 2000, there were some rumblings about Democratic voter fraud, but it really wasn’t part of the main discourse. But thanks to von Spakovsky and the flame-fanning of a few others, the myth that Democratic voter fraud is common, and that it helps Democrats win elections, has become part of the Republican orthodoxy.” In December, Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, wrote, “Election fraud is a real and persistent threat to our electoral system.” He accused Democrats of “standing up for potential fraud—presumably because ending it would disenfranchise at least two of its core constituencies: the deceased and double-voters.” Hasen believes that Democrats, for their part, have made exaggerated claims about the number of voters who may be disenfranchised by Republican election-security measures. But he regards the conservative alarmists as more successful. “Their job is really done,” Hasen says. “It’s common now to assert that there is a need for voter I.D.s, even without any evidence.”
The whole thing is well worth your time. It exposes in meticulous detail the GOP myth-making, and the rash of anti-democracy laws that have been sponsored and passed (though many of these have been struck-down by the courts for being unconstitutional). The article is very eye-opening.

Which brings me to my point. It's one thing to see this kind of stuff happening in a red-state in the South. In fact, we've almost come to expect that kind of thing given the region's brutal history. But we usually don't expect to see similar efforts here in NY State, and in our own backyard no less:
State Assemblyman Kevin Cahill (D-Kingston) charged that Dutchess County Republican Elections Commissioner Erik Haight’s requirements that college students must list their specific addresses in order to vote “appear to be deliberate efforts to place additional burdens on the process for students, over and above those required by any other population in the county.” Cahill told the State Board of Elections in a letter on Friday that “This has the effect of an unacceptable compromise of voters’ rights.”

Some 50 students at the CIA and Bard filled out voter registration forms recently listing their address as post office boxes. Haight maintained they must list their actual address for the documents to be legally completed.
Cahill is right on target for criticizing Haight. And he isn't the only one. The State Board of Elections and the NY Civil Liberties Union have also criticized Haight:
The state Board of Elections and the New York Civil Liberties Union say Dutchess County Republican Elections Commissioner Erik Haight should not bar from the voter rolls hundreds of college students who live in dorms in the county.

The state board took the unusual step this week of issuing an advisory opinion urging Haight to reconsider his stance, saying the students shouldn’t be kept off the voter rolls simply because they didn’t list on their voter registration applications the name of the college dormitory in which they live.
That's all this comes down to: they didn't put the name of the building on the form, which requires only a street address.

And this is par for the course. GOP disenfranchisement of students has a long and storied history, not just in our area but around the country. The problem is that even the Bush justice department didn't find any fraud:
[After] five years of searching for voter fraud from 2002 to 2007, George W. Bush’s Justice Department found “virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections,” The New York Times reported. Just 96 people were indicted, and 70 convicted, for voting fraud from October 2002 to September 2005—and many simply filled out their voting registration cards incorrectly.

A person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit in-person voter fraud, according to the Brennan Center. “I haven’t seen a single documented case of it ever happening,” said Mimi Marziani, a lawyer for the Brennan Center, of impersonation fraud.

Yet since 2010, five states have made it illegal for students to use their college I.D. cards to vote;* in many instances, only government-issued I.D.s are permitted. Five states have reduced early voting periods (Democrats tend to vote early more often than Republicans). And three states have restricted the ability of third-party groups, who often register students and/or minorities, to register voters.

Three more states passed laws that make it more difficult for individuals to register.
The reason for this is that students are overwhelmingly liberal and vote Democratic.

But there is another dynamic at work here. You see, the GOP is currently involved in some of the biggest voter fraud this nation has ever seen:
Republicans passed new voting restrictions in more than a dozen states since the 2010 election that were purportedly designed to stop voter fraud. Yet, in a deeply ironic twist, the most high-profile instances of election fraud this cycle have been committed by Republicans in states with new voting restrictions.

The RNC-funded Strategic Allied Consulting, run by checkered GOP operative Nathan Sproul, is under criminal investigation in Florida for submitting fraudulent voter registration forms to election officials. (Sproul is still running voter-canvassing operations for conservatives in thirty states.) Sproul's associate Colin Small, who had worked for Strategic Allied Consulting and as “Grassroots Field Director at the Republican National Committee," was charged last week with eight felony counts and five misdemeanors for trashing voter registration forms in Virginia.
These guys are operating in 30 states. How many Democratic voter registration forms have been destroyed? How many people believe they are registered when they're not?

But the point here is to accuse the opposition of violating the law you, yourself, are breaking. What this does is prevent your opponent from hitting back in any meaningful sense, as it seems like a he-said/she-said situation. It's a very effective tactic.

So, here's to Assemblyman Cahill for standing up and doing the right thing. And shame on the GOP for undermining American democracy.

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