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Ezekiel Edwards

The Fraud Behind Voter Fraud

Last week, the Supreme Court allowed Arizona to enforce a state law that requires voters to produce a government-issued identification card before being allowed to vote in the November elections. Although the Court did not rule on the ultimate merits of the law, preferring to wait until after the elections, the decision was a step backwards for our democracy.

Critics of the Republican-backed Arizona law and others like it compare it to a modern-day poll tax, as it requires voters to purchase the identification cards, which many cannot afford to do. In addition, detractors complain that such laws will hamper the minority and lower-income vote by keeping qualified voters away from the polls. Most states accept alternative forms of identification such as a bank statement or utility bill. Supporters of identification requirements, on the other hand, claim such laws are necessary to counter voter fraud, particularly by illegal immigrants.

Here's my question: what voter fraud by illegal immigrants? The major problems regarding voting legitimacy in 2000 and 2004 did not stem from voter fraud; they stemmed from registration fraud by the local and state agencies. In the past two elections, did you hear that our democracy was a hypocrisy because of voting by illegal immigrants? Was the narrow margin of the 2000 election controversial because votes were cast and counted by people who had no right to vote? If so, that's news to me.

Rather, I recall thousands of people being turned away from voting booths because of error-ridden lists generated by private companies that confused legitimate voters with people who could not register. I remember intimidation tactics and roadblocks that kept people from the polls. I remember a politicized, blindly partisan oversight of the electoral process. In other words, I remember a vast problem of unlawful voter exclusion, not unlawful voter inclusion.

The "voter fraud" that has been used to justify voter identification laws is mysterious. In 2005, Georgia passed a law requiring citizens to possess government-issued photo identification ($20 a year for five years) in order to vote (normally, Georgians could use any one of 17 types of identification that show the person's name and address). In issuing and upholding an injunction barring Georgia from enforcing the law --- likening it to a Jim Crow-era poll tax --- the federal courts found no evidence of voter fraud to sustain the law, not a single study documenting systematic or serious problems with voters casting ballots in someone else's name or registering and voting using fictitious names.

Was Georgia really trying to stop voter fraud, or was it endeavoring to make it more difficult for the voices of the poor and for minorities to be heard? Consider that the identifications required under the law, which would have prevented an estimated 150,000 Georgians from voting, would only have been available at DMV offices, and yet 99 counties in Atlanta had none (including the entire city of Atlanta, where 60% of the population is black)!

Likewise, in Missouri, where the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a similar statute, its proponents failed to provide any evidence of any voter impersonation fraud.

So the questions remain: why are certain states excluding even more Americans from voting by enacting stringent identification requirements despite scant evidence of voter fraud while doing very little to remedy the actual causes of unlawful or excessive disenfranchisement that were so rampant and well-documented overt the past six years? Why is it that minorities and the poor, whose votes were the most egregiously diluted in 2000 and 2004, are again the groups that would be most adversely affected by more stringent identification requirements? And why are Republicans, who benefited far more handsomely from those scandal-clad elections, clamoring loudly for "reform" in the form of voter identification laws, when America should be pushing most aggressively for change, not in the form of identification requirements, but by ensuring that no registered voter be turned away from the polls, that oversight of elections be non-partisan, and that we assess the large scale risks of electoral fraud posed by electronic voting (machine malfunction and corruption of the voting system source code)?

But the Supreme Court does not seem too concerned. When it stated in its decision that voter fraud "drives honest citizens out of the democratic process and breeds distrust of our government", it should have remembered that what drove honest citizens out of the democratic process in the past elections was official registration fraud, paid for by the state, given an official stamp by election officials, and ultimately condoned by the Court itself. When the Court used the term "disenfranchisement? to refer to "voters who fear their legitimate votes will be outweighed by fraudulent ones", it should have used it to refer to the actual voters who are overwhelmingly disenfranchised in this country: those people mistaken at voting precincts for convicted felons, or told erroneously their names are not on registered voting lists, or suddenly informed that they are in the wrong voting precinct (not to mention the millions of Americans who are disenfranchised by law because of their involvement with the criminal justice system).

Ironically, despite the fact that new voter identification laws will create many questions, anxieties, and frustration among certain segments of the voting population, and despite the chaos of Florida and Ohio created not by voter fraud but by state-sanctioned disenfranchisement, the Court expressed concern that judicial intervention in a pre-election context would result in confusion and thus keep people away from the polls!

How can it be that after two Presidential elections that exposed a voting system devastatingly flawed and under-inclusive are we enacting or maintaining legislation that will only further suppress or deter lawful votes, often along racial and economic lines?

And please don't tell me voter fraud by illegal immigrants.

Ezekiel Edwards: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 8:36 AM, Oct 24, 2006 in Civil Rights | Criminal Justice | Democracy | Politics | Voting Rights
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