Monday, September 17, 2012

This Is What 100 Years' Worth of Voting Restrictions Looks Like

Posted by Steven Hale on Mon, Sep 10, 2012 at 4:34 PM

Over at The Nation last week, Ari Berman reported from an event put on by the Democratic National Committee's Voting Right's Institute, at which civil rights icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis addressed voting rights and the GOP's recent nationwide push to restrict them.

The piece is worth reading, if only for the perspective of Lewis, a man who was beaten on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala. But buried toward the bottom of the piece are some astounding statistics that put the voter ID wave into context.

The nut graph, after the jump:

According to Susan Falck, a research associate at California State University — Northridge, twenty-nine laws restricting the right to vote were passed in the United States from 1865-1967. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, twenty-five laws restricting the right to vote have been passed from 2011-12. Eight of eleven states in the former confederacy have passed laws aimed at suppressing minority voters since the 2010 election. These are unbelievable statistics — and make one wonder why the likes of Lewis aren’t speaking in prime time.

The information Berman cites on laws passed from 1865-1967 is here, and the data from the Brennan Center for Justice on laws passed from 2011-12 is here.

If we take Republicans at their word — that this wave of restrictions is born out of sincere concern over voter fraud — then what are we to take from this information? Should we assume that 100 years of elections were fraught with voter-impersonation? Is it time to start reconsidering whether John F. Kennedy was fairly elected in 1960? Then again, to be fair, cheating voters would have a better chance of affecting the outcome of a low-turnout election. Perhaps we shouldn't have been so quick to trust the results of the election that made Ben West mayor of Nashville in 1951?

Or is it the opposite? After all, Republicans spent their week in Tampa hearkening back to the good old days. Perhaps back then people were less inclined to defraud elections, but ever since the 2010 mid-term elections they just can't help themselves? Has a sudden spike in voter fraud necessitated a century's worth of voter restrictions in the last two years?

Of course, we now know it's not the latter. Voter fraud, in general, is exceedingly rare, and the type of fraud that voter ID laws are ostensibly aiming to stop is even more so. As for the former, I haven't heard anyone actually suggesting that pre-voter ID elections were significantly tainted, if not altered, by fraud. So why the sudden urgency on this matter?

There only seems to be two options.

If you're feeling generous: perhaps the nationwide, ALEC-fueled, Republican push for voter restrictions that disproportionately affect likely Democratic voters was the result of a simultaneous epiphany about the threat of voter fraud that, upon further examination, turned out to be aimed at the most rare type of voter fraud instead of the most common. Oops.

Or Republicans, doing the math on America's changing demographics and realizing that the minority vote will soon be the majority vote, are in the throes of a desperate attempt to make it more difficult for those people to vote at all.

And when it comes to Tennessee in particular, these are the options:

Either Tennessee Republicans are gullible saps who actually believed the line that voter fraud was threatening the democracy and, unbeknownst to themselves, went about enacting a policy that is, among other things, inherently racist ...

Or Tennessee Republicans are willfully ignorant tools who disingenuously claim that voter fraud was threatening the democracy and knowingly went about enacting a policy that is, among other things, inherently racist.

Stupid or sinister? You pick.

In other news, that statewide voter purge in Florida, which was going to rid the rolls of illegally registered voters? It worked. They caught ... one Canadian.

And a reminder: As noted in a federal court's recent ruling against Texas' voter ID law, a state has a better chance of avoiding the wrong side of the gavel if "they ensure that all prospective voters can easily obtain free photo ID ..." So it's good that Tennessee has decided to open eight driver centers on the first Saturday of October and November. Go get one.


Study: Fraud Prompting Voter-ID Laws is 'Virtually Non-Existent'

Posted by Steven Hale on Mon, Aug 13, 2012 at 9:46 AM

A study billed as "the most exhaustive" ever of American election fraud has found that in-person voter fraud — the type that voter-ID laws like Tennessee's were ostensibly created to stop — is "virtually non-existent."
News21, a part of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education focused on investigative reporting, analyzed 2,608 alleged election-fraud cases, going back to 2000, mined from thousands of public records requests, in all 50 states. (You can peruse the resulting database here.) In all, they found just 10 cases of voter impersonation, or, "one out of about every 15 million prospective voters" during that time.
In Tennessee, the study turned up 14 total cases of reported fraud since 2000, none of which were cases of voter impersonation. The city of Memphis filed a lawsuit last week, challenging the state's voter ID law on constitutional grounds.
An excerpt summarizing the study's findings is after the jump. (Note: For formatting purposes, I've replaced the bullets in the original, with dashes. The rest is, of course, unaltered.)

The News21 analysis of its election fraud database shows:
— In-person voter-impersonation fraud is rare. The database shows 207 cases of other types of fraud for every case of voter impersonation.
“The fraud that matters is the fraud that is organized. That’s why voter impersonation is practically non-existent because it is difficult to do and it is difficult to pull people into conspiracies to do it,” said Lorraine Minnite, professor of public policy and administration at Rutgers University.
— There is more fraud in absentee ballots and voter registration than any other categories. The analysis shows 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud and 400 cases of registration fraud. A required photo ID at the polls would not have prevented these cases.
“The one issue I think is potentially important, though more or less ignored, is the overuse of absentee balloting, which provides far more opportunity for fraud and intimidation than on-site voter fraud,” said Daniel Lowenstein, a UCLA School of Law professor.
— Of reported election-fraud allegations in the database whose resolution could be determined, 46 percent resulted in acquittals, dropped charges or decisions not to bring charges.
Minnite says prosecutions are rare. “You have to be able to show that people knew what they were doing and they knew it was wrong and they did it anyway,” she said. “It may be in the end they (prosecutors) can’t really show that the people who have cast technically illegal ballots did it on purpose.”
— Felons or noncitizens sometimes register to vote or cast votes because they are confused about their eligibility. The database shows 74 cases of felons voting and 56 cases of noncitizens voting.
— Voters make a lot of mistakes, from accidentally voting twice to voting in the wrong precinct.
—Election officials make a lot mistakes, from clerical errors — giving voters ballots when they’ve already voted to election workers confused about voters’ eligibility requirements.

Despite that, News21 reports that Republican-controlled state legislatures, and the Democrat-led body in Rhode Island, "have considered 62 ID bills since 2010." They also note that few of the laws passed in the name of stopping voter fraud address absentee ballots, which their analysis found to be "one of the most frequent instances of fraud."

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