Crock the Vote

By Jack Shafer
September 14, 2011

By Jack Shafer
The opinions expressed are his own.

In case you haven’t heard, the 2012 presidential election is already over and the Republicans stole it. Both Rolling Stone and Mother Jones report this week that those wascally Wepublicans have already walked away with the ballot boxes.

The Rolling Stone piece (Sept. 15, 2011) finds evidence of an “unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008.”  Comparing the Republican efforts to suppress the vote to the Jim Crow-era poll taxes and literacy tests erected by Dixiecrats, writer Ari Berman claims that a “dozen states have approved new obstacles to voting.” By “obstacles” Berman means new laws requiring proof of citizenship in Kansas and Alabama; the repeal of Election Day voter registration in Maine; shortened early voting periods in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia; and the presentation of government-issued ID before casting ballots in Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, as well as other new voting measures.

As clampdowns go, these measures seem too anemic to support the Rolling Stone‘s hysterical headline, “The GOP War on Voting,” but it is no journalistic crime to over-promise and under-deliver on a piece, especially a political piece.

Mother Jones’s less wiggy article, by Nick Baumann, explains how Pennsylvania’s Republican state legislators are “pushing a scheme” to change the way the state’s Electoral College votes are cast from winner-take-all to winner by congressional district (two votes would go to the state-wide contest winner). The horror of the plan, Baumann writes, is that it’s legal. It’s also constitutional—Nebraska and Maine cast their votes this way, he writes, and it could cost President Barack Obama a second term in a close election.

Whatever might be said about these charges, they are certainly not “unprecedented.” Fears of a stolen election are as old as American politics and as contemporary as the last big contest. In 2008′s third presidential campaign debate, John McCain declared that ACORN was “now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”  In October 2008, Rolling Stone published a feature whose thesis was similar to the current piece, titled “Block the Vote: Will the GOP’s campaign to deter new voters and discard Democratic ballots determine the next president?” By the time the froth on both sides dried, nobody uncovered evidence of either an ACORN or Republican coup d’etat.

At the risk of sounding like the moderating voice of reason, I’d like to point out that the Republican efforts to “suppress the Democratic vote” aren’t quite as demonic and unfair as Rolling Stone makes them out to be. Of course, Republicans want as few potential Democratic voters to cast ballots as possible, and will shout “Vote fraud!” if that makes their case more persuasive. That’s politics. Democrats want as many potential Democratic voters to cast ballots as possible, and they don’t particularly care if those Democrats are double registered or otherwise ineligible as long as nobody finds out. That’s politics, too, a point that historian Alexander Keyssar makes repeatedly in the 2006 2000 book The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States.

Any effort to uncouple politics from the way that voters are registered, votes are cast, and votes are counted is foolhardy, because the whole enterprise is political and always has been. “Federalists and then Whigs tended to favor longer periods of residence,” Keyssar writes of politics in early 19th century America, “because they were wary of the unsettled and the poor and suspected that most transients would vote for Republicans or Democrats. The Democrats shared this analysis, advocating shorter residency requirements in the hope of enfranchising more of their own supporters.”

Rolling Stone makes a big deal out of the fact that the feds convicted only 86 people of voter fraud between 2002 and 2007. But the lack of prosecution doesn’t mean widespread voter fraud doesn’t exist. In 2004, journalist Bill Gifford compiled these hilarious examples of non-partisan voter fraud for Slate.

The Orlando Sentinel found that 68,000 Florida voters are also registered in Georgia or North Carolina (the only two states it checked), 1,650 of whom voted twice in 2000 or 2002. The Kansas City Star discovered 300 “potential” cases of individual voter fraud, including Kansans voting in Missouri and St. Louisans voting in both the city and the surrounding suburbs.

At the risk of sounding like a Republican, I direct you to the data collected by the United States Elections Project at George Washington University, which indicates that “suppressing” the potential Democratic vote in such Electoral College vote-rich states as California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois could be a worthy, democratic initiative. According to the Elections Project, almost 20 percent of  the voting-age population in California in 2006 was ineligible to vote because of their lack of citizenship or other reasons. In Texas, the figure was 16.34 percent; in Florida, 13.47 percent; in New York, 13.21 percent; in Illinois, 9.72 percent. In the average state, about 7 percent of its voting-age population is ineligible to vote.

So when Republicans deploy their “suppressive” measures in California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois—and other places in which the ineligible are found in profusion—you can make like a Democrat and complain that their efforts are disenfranchising whole populations that have a right to vote. Or you can make like a Republican and claim that the GOP is protecting the sanctity of votes cast by the eligible by making it harder for the ineligible to register.

Or, you can make like the moderating voice of reason—me—and have it both ways, simultaneously supporting and protesting the Republicans’ war on voting.

******

Disclosure: The 2011 Rolling Stone article notes that the Koch brothers help fund the American Legislative Exchange Council, which designs legislation “to impede voters at every step of the electoral process.” I worked for almost three years in the early 1980s for Inquiry magazine, which was funded by the Kochs. Cast your ballot for or against this piece with email to Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com. This hand-built RSS feed rings every time a Shafer correction is filed.

PHOTO: Voters cast their ballots at the Super Suds laundry in Long Beach, California November 2, 2010. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

25 comments

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Wow, Rolling Stone making claims against the Republican Party? there’s new ground being covered.

Posted by riley803 | Report as abusive

Or, you could view partisan differences as policy disagreements and beg both sides to cool the rhetoric and focus on what’s really broken in our election system.

That’s my view here: http://blog.lib.umn.edu/cspg/peea/2011/0 9/unconventional_wisdom_an_diffe.php

Doug Chapin, Humphrey School of Public Affairs

Posted by dougchapinjr | Report as abusive

Obama has already lost the election, even without these rules, as his leadership has been really lacking. What the rules do prove is that the GOP doesn’t like the 2-party system in the US… They want a one party system, just like in China.

Posted by edgyinchina | Report as abusive

Best way to handle this?? Go to popular vote and NO voting machine! Hand counted paper ballots only!

Posted by Barb1024 | Report as abusive

We are all disenfranchised anyway. Voting for Obama produced … Obama. There is no candidate that we will hear from that has not been bought and paid for by powerful financial interests. We have no choices in this nation. I am done voting.

Posted by BowMtnSpirit | Report as abusive

As a moderate voice for reason why do you state that “Democrats want as many potential Democratic voters to cast ballots as possible, and they don’t particularly care if those Democrats are double registered or otherwise ineligible…” with out any evidence to back it up? Is it not possible that some of those double registered or otherwise ineligible voters are Republicans?

Posted by Frump | Report as abusive

A laughable argument presented by an obvious partisan. Anyone following our elections can remember the “hanging chads” in Fla, the bussed in chicago voters voting in nearby states, the unchallenged intimidation by the black panthers, The mickey mouse voters registered by ACORN, and all the other fraudulent tactics used by the democrats. Compare this to asking a voter to have some bona fide identification before voting. Anyone can see the GOP is trying to “steal” the election you say. You, the author are either incredibly naive or you are a delliberate liar.

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive

You frame this issue as one aimed at preventing people from voting who are ineligible or double-registered. But voter ID will primarily have the effect of keeping eligible people from voting.

You cite statistics showing the percentage of state populations ineligible to vote — but nothing showing that ineligible voters are trying to register. The specter of illegal immigrants voting has been proven false.

The “fraud” statistics you cite include only “potential” double voting — but how do we ignore the fact that most were not convicted? Two people with the same name voting in two different places might be “suspected” of double-voting. Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen rode into office on promised to prosecute voter fraud, and after actually investigating, found almost no cases.

You also cite incidents of double registration, which as I understand it, happens when a person moves, and they remain registered at their previous address, but also register at their new address. Voter ID will do nothing to resolve this.

Voter ID will enact unnecessary barriers to voting for eligible residents. In Wisconsin, where a voter ID bill just passed, around half of the state’s African-American population — most of whom are otherwise eligible to vote — do not have an ID. College students whose driver’s license lists their parent’s address but live in the dorms or a campus apartment will be ineligible to vote where they live, because a current address is required on the ID.

Voter ID is like using a scud missile to kill a fly — the “problem” is miniscule, but the collateral damage is severe.

Posted by beeman22 | Report as abusive

Neither Rolling Stone nor Mother Jones have been relevant since 1985.

Posted by SilentBoy741 | Report as abusive

Funny no one mentions 2000, the actual great election fraud whereby the candidate that had the most votes in Florida lost the electoral college votes of Florida by decree of the Supreme Court, 5-4 no less, along party-lines. Neither side is 100% clean, but for GOPers to be crying when they backed the Bush fiasco is hypocrisy incarnate.

Posted by CDN_Rebel | Report as abusive

Would someone please tell me how many actual, voter fraud cases there have been in the last 5 elections? Not very many I am sure.
“That’s politics”? Politics is not a game.
Mother Jones and The Rolling Stone like a well informed public, it’s just too bad the main stream media does not feel the same way.

Posted by katz523 | Report as abusive

hard to imagine that you can support and protest at the same time though as schafer is doing
interestiing to note that schafer doesnt disclose whether he’s a republican or democrat trying hard to be a centrist..clearly the article attempts to bring out an issue that’s to the democrat’s advantage but alas from a republican viewpoint that as usual: that this voting block issue is a farcical issue raised by the dems

Posted by kellycfa | Report as abusive

People who crave power will cheat. People who deserve power will have to run against a poorly executed cheat in order to win. Good luck with that.
IMHO Mr O spent all of his political capital on healthcare deform (spelled correctly). Aside from a historical election event which took a lot of courage, can anyone name a SINGLE improvement since the administration began that did not involve asphalt paving?

Posted by JCnTN | Report as abusive

“The Orlando Sentinel found that 68,000 Florida voters are also registered in Georgia or North Carolina (the only two states it checked),”

Like duh… Of 16 Million residents it is likely that a bunch of them moved from somewhere else,perhaps even have dual residences in these nearby states. When someone moves they usually do not bother to cancel voter registration in the old local. Therefore it is to be expected that you will find many dually registered people.

Of 68,000 some 1650 voted twice in those years. Were these two times in the same national elections? and if they were – were they all democrats? Or were they all republicans?

This only illustrates how feeble the case for restrictive laws is.

I also object to your supposition “Democrats want as many potential Democratic voters to cast ballots as possible, and they don’t particularly care if those Democrats are double registered or otherwise ineligible as long as nobody finds out.”

You are out on a limb here. Have you ever had a democrat tell you that they don’t care? Is there any evidence that Republicans care if some votes 2 times for republican candidates? You are hypothesizing a negative and applying it one sided. This is not reporting, this is propagandizing in a feeble attempt to justify those who DO want to dis-enfranchize American citizens.

Let’s just cut to the chase…

Do you believe that each American Citizen has the right to vote? Yes or no?

Posted by jmmx | Report as abusive

No, the American People have already lost the election, whichever “party” “wins”. They both work for the same people, look after the same people, but those people are most definitely not the “People” of Declaration of Independence fame.

Maybe instead of tweedle-dee tweedle-dum meaningless elections we should spend the money on free food and music for a week to celebrate July 4th. Then the people might actually get something other than a bill.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

@JCnTN

While our economy has not recovered, we are no longer in free fall.

On the other hand can you name one thing that our president’s republican predecessor did not destroy. We can start with our current quagmires in Iraq and Afganistan. Human rights violations regarding torture and Guantanamo (another quagmire.) Unfunded prescription drug plan, Grover Norquist strikes again. Failure in response to Katrina. If those were not enough, how about the complete destruction of the largest and most productive economy in the world, which has also been a huge contribution to our debt by the loss of tax base and need for stimulus. Please tell me what improved from 2001 to 2009.

Undoing eight years of idiocracy does not happen overnight. I think even with our economy running in place, we are improving drastically in other regards.

Posted by smarcus | Report as abusive

The self-proclaimed voice of reason writing this article neglected to note that all the hyper-activity in either direction is apparently only targeted to Democratic voters. It doesn’t take seismograph to figure out who the miscreants will be then. You never hear of schemes to “suppress” Republican voters. So where is the mischief coming from?

Posted by nonchalanto | Report as abusive

Is this the left wing news blog site? Day after day of left ditch propaganda. I started reading Reuters because they did not post left/right articles…..but know that has changed….time for me to find a different news source, one that reports the actual news rather than one that spins the news.

Posted by Gen | Report as abusive

The right to vote in the U.S. ought to be sacrosanct.

There are a few things you haven’t mentioned here. For example, Wisconsin recently tightened voter registration requirements – and then closed voter registration facilities in predominantly Democratic districts, ostensibly for budgetary reasons.

During the Jim Crow era, politicians came up with all kinds of excuses for disenfranchising voters. Poll taxes were necessary to pay for the cost of holding elections. Literacy tests were necessary to assure that voters could understand the ballots. All specious. And all rendered illegal by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

http://library.clerk.house.gov/reference -files/PPL_VotingRightsAct_1965.pdf

It’s time to revisit the VRA. We need to make it stronger this time.

Posted by Fishrl | Report as abusive

I have difficulty understanding how a nation that prides itself on its democracy spends huge amounts on election campaigns but is so cheap and slack about the actual voting process.

Posted by Sinbad1 | Report as abusive

Nate Silver does not agree on the electoral vote changes.

“Had the proposal been in place in 2008, when Pennsylvania had one more electoral vote prior to reapportionment, Barack Obama would have carried only 11 of the state’s 21 electoral votes despite winning Pennsylvania by a 10-point margin.”

http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com  /2011/09/15/pennsylvania-electoral-coll ege-plan-could-backfire-on-g-o-p/?hp

Posted by NancyinStL | Report as abusive

How is telling us what percent of Californians or Texans are ineligible to vote relevant? Unless one can show these people are voting and not just this innuendo, it doesn’t belong in the article.

Posted by trblmkr | Report as abusive

you cant support and protest at the same time – thats oxymoronic
schafer is taking great pains to strike a centrist discussion article..alas in his disclosure he fails to disclose whether is he a dem or rep..from the feel of the article…instinctively a republican piece in its own self serving motive.
certainly not what i would come to expect from a Reuters OpEd…c’mon reuters…you can do better than this piece which does a bad job even for bipartisanship reporting standards

Posted by kellycfa | Report as abusive

In the 2010 election 73% of the voters in Texas did not bother to go to the voting booths. I volunteered before that election to help register voters. Out of over 1000 people I talked with, only five filled out the voter registration form. The fact is, a large percentage of people really do not care about politics.

Posted by mickipacific | Report as abusive

Neither Rolling Stone, Mother Jones nor the author of this piece mentions the dismal chaos that’s likely to befall states and localities in which a large number of people vote by mail (including Washington and Oregon, which now require it) if the US Postal Service is allowed to go over the cliff (or gets pushed).

Posted by Art_In_Seattle | Report as abusive