Monday, August 20, 2012

Scaring the base to get voter turnout

The voter ID laws that have been passed in Republican states - and the Democratic opposition to them - are revealing a lot more than either the Democrats or Republicans think they are revealing, in my mind.

Pennsylvania is the cause of the day for the Democratic Party.  They are trying to overturn the Pennsylvania voter ID law.  Their main argument is that there have been only 10 prosecuted voter ID fraud cases in the last decade, so that proves that the purpose of the voter ID laws is to suppress the turnout of the black, young, and elderly.  They claim that about 750,000 Democrats in these categories would be disenfranchised votes in Pennsylvania.  Wow, that’s a lot of votes!  … er, potential votes.

But there are some interesting facts that undermine the Democratic Party voter-suppression narrative.  One is that voter ID laws were passed in Indiana and Georgia prior to the 2008 election.  Was Democratic turnout suppressed?  No. Liberal Lou Cannon writes:

“Democratic turnout surged in both states. Democrats say this reflected enthusiasm for Barack Obama, which is true but beside the point. The argument against strict photo-ID laws is that significant numbers of people who want to vote can’t obtain the required identification. If that were so, the Democratic vote should have increased less in Indiana and Georgia than in states without such laws. In fact, it was comparable.”

Republicans cry foul.  The issue to them is not who has been caught, but how many scores of thousands of votes get cast with no way of catching them, especially in the Democrat controlled cities. 

They claim that systemic fraud by the big city Democratic machines has inflated Democratic Party turnout and vote count for decades.  And they cite “walking around money” to pay people on Election Day who otherwise wouldn’t vote if they hadn’t been accosted by party machine get-out-the-vote operatives and taken to the polls.  They point to voter registration records that are bloated with deceased and otherwise non-eligible names.  Republicans claim they are righting a wrong that has been going on as long as one party controlled the voting mechanisms of the big cities, all of which today are very heavily registered and voted as Democrats.  Decades ago, the city machines were Republican, now they are Democrat, and both parties did the same things when they were in control.

OK, but what about the notion that the elderly, blacks, and the young can’t afford to pay the money to get the free voter ID cards.  (The cards are free, but Dems say that you may have to have to pay to get a birth certificate to get the free card).  Well, that really doesn't seem to hold up all that well either.  Pennsylvania seems to me to be very accommodating in making it easy for voters without voter IDs to have their votes counted.  Conservative John Fund writes:

“As Judge Simpson noted, anyone who cannot obtain a photo ID is allowed to cast a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots will be counted if the voter can provide officials with a copy of acceptable ID within six days by mail, fax, or e-mail. If a voter is indigent and cannot afford the fee for a copy of his birth certificate, he simply needs to affirm this and his provisional ballot will be counted. “I am not convinced any qualified elector need be disfranchised” by the voter-ID law, Judge Simpson concluded. He also found no problem with the law’s provision that absentee voters must provide the last four digits of their Social Security number or driver’s license, a useful protection against fraud”. 

But, Democrats say that the real proof of Republican voter suppression is Jim Greer, former Republican Party Chair who confessed that Republicans were suppressing votes:

“Greer mentioned a December 2009 meeting with party officials. “I was upset because the political consultants and staff were talking about voter suppression and keeping blacks from voting,” he said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. He also said party officials discussed how “minority outreach programs were not fit for the Republican Party,”

Looks pretty bad. 

What do Republicans have to say?  Well, they point out that a Democratic Party operative claimed that Democrats were inflating votes:

Artur Davis, the former Democratic congressman from Alabama who nominated Barack Obama for president at the 2008 Democratic convention, agrees. “A big thing that drove me to leave the Democratic party and support photo ID was the realization that the real victims of voter fraud are minority and poor people who live in places where machines block reform efforts by stealing votes,” he told me. He wrote in an op-ed in the Montgomery Advertiser last year that “voting in the names of the dead, and the nonexistent, and the too-mentally impaired to function cancels out the votes of citizens who are exercising their rights — that’s suppression by any light. If you doubt it exists, I don’t; I’ve heard the peddlers of those ballots brag about it, I’ve been asked to provide the funds for it, and I am confident it has changed at least a few close local election results.”

So, one way to interpret this is that neither party is really interested in democracy, especially not interested in fair elections.  They are really only interested in winning, and cheating is all part of the corrupt, disgusting game. 

Another way of interpreting this is that none of this really amounts to a hill of beans.  The huge voter inflation by Democrats suspected by Republicans is refuted by finding only 10 cases of fraud, and the fear of voter suppression by voter ID laws is refuted by the lack of evidence of lower Democrat voter turnout in the only two states that actually have voter ID laws – Georgia and Indiana.

I go for answer number two.  I think this is a tempest in a teapot.  I think that party activists get paid a lot of money to tilt the playing field for their party, and they take a lot of credit for doing so, and don’t really accomplish much at all. 

I think the real reason for the brouhaha is to get the party faithful riled up and out to the polls.  The people that MSNBC and are trying to get to the polls are the dedicated party faithful in their audience, not the indigent blacks or elderly that don’t really know what is going on.  And the people that the National Review and Fox News want to get to the polls are the dedicated party faithful as well.  Inflame, demonize, scream with indignation, appeal to your tribe to go out and destroy the other tribe, who are presented as inhuman monsters out to Destroy America As We Know It.

In other words, my hope is that we all calm down, and don't let the ideologues play us like a drum just to make sure we go out and vote out of fear.  Vote our convictions, you bet, be partisan, you bet, but resist the demonization and fear mongering of the ideologues.