On (not) getting out the vote

For all the belly-aching about voter fraud and the “dirty ballot boxes,” one cannot help but be slightly amused at Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry failing to get on the Virginia primary ballot due to what some perceive as restrictive candidate requirements. Gingrich described the failure as akin to Pearl Harbor (+1 for hyperbole, Newt), while Perry is suing the State of Virginia to stop the ballots from being printed. Many in the Republican Party, in particular the Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, have called for easing the requirements – which are the same requirements as last year, by the way. A spokesman for Perry, Ray Sullivan, went so far as to say this:

“We believe that the Virginia provisions unconstitutionally restrict the rights of candidates and voters by severely restricting access to the ballot.”

Which, as Ezra Klein notes over at Bloomberg View, is bittersweet irony coming from the party that has done much since 2008 to introduce restrictive voting laws in many parts of the country:

The changes take a few different forms. Thirty-four states have introduced — and seven have passed — strict laws requiring photo IDs. That may not seem like a big deal, but as Weiser and Norden note, “11% of American citizens do not possess a government-issued photo ID; that is over 21 million citizens” — and poor and black Americans are disproportionately represented in that total.

It’s not just photo ID laws, of course. Thirteen states have introduced bills to end same-day and election-day voter registration. Nine states have introduced laws restricting early voting, and four more have introduced proposals to restrict absentee voting. Two states have reversed decisions allowing ex- convicts to vote, and 12 states have introduced laws requiring proof of citizenship. Nationally, House Republicans voted to do away with the Election Assistance Commission.

Of course these measures are all promoted in the vein of preventing what the GOP sees as widespread voter fraud – what others might alternatively describe as “losing elections.” The problem with this motivation is that it is largely unfounded. Klein again:

[…] The only problem is that it’s been extremely hard for advocates of more restrictive voting laws to prove that fraud is a problem.

As Berman wrote, “A major probe by the Justice Department between 2002 and 2007 failed to prosecute a single person for going to the polls and impersonating an eligible voter, which the anti-fraud laws are supposedly designed to stop. Out of the 300 million votes cast in that period, federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud — and many of the cases involved immigrants and former felons who were simply unaware of their ineligibility.” Joked Stephen Colbert: “Our democracy is under siege from an enemy so small it could be hiding anywhere.”

One more cogent point from Klein’s column:

One of the most restrictive laws in the nation, in fact, was signed by Texas Governor Rick Perry. The bill, which Perry fast-tracked by designating it as “emergency” legislation, enforces a photo ID requirement that can be met by a concealed handgun permit but not by a student ID from a state university. And under the law only a Texas citizen who has passed a mandatory training program can register voters.

That would be the same Perry who is now challenging Virginia’s rules. But the differences between the law Perry signed, and the law he’s challenging, are instructive.

Perry is an experienced politician who has hired a professional staff for the express purpose of navigating the logistical hurdle of ballot access. And he still failed to make the Virginia ballot, despite the fact that the rules were well known and unchanged since the last election.

In Texas, however, Perry has sharply changed the rules, changed them on people who do not have a staff dedicated to helping them vote, and in fact made it harder for outside groups to send professionals into the state to help potential voters navigate the new law.

Apparently onerous election laws are only meant for those without a government issued I.D., students, would-be voters that register on election day, voters who cannot attend the polls, or who happen to work on election day and probably don’t have the resources of a national presidential candidate. When applied to candidates who should know better, it’s the equivalent of an unconstitutional assault not unlike ‘Pearl Harbor’ and a travesty of one of America’s most fundamental freedoms.

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