The Wrong Kind

Suppressing voter turnout?

In 2008, Barack Obama received only 43 percent of the white vote; without the support of minority voters, he would have lost the election. African Americans, in particular, turned out in record numbers for a chance to elect the country’s first black president.

For a short time after the election, it looked as though the GOP would respond by trying harder to compete for the support of minorities. The Republican National Committee chose Michael Steele, an African American, as its chairman and asked Louisiana’s young Indian American governor, Bobby Jindal, to respond to President Obama’s first State of the Union address. In view of the country’s growing minority populations and shrinking white majority, the party of Lincoln appeared to be reaching back to its roots

Since then, however, the GOP seems to have given up on attracting many more minority voters in time for the 2012 election, and has switched to another strategy: If you can’t get them to join you, beat them back—with laws that make it harder to vote. Since the 2010 midterm elections, more than a dozen Republican-controlled states have passed laws that require photo IDs at polling stations, impede voter-registration drives, reduce early-voting periods, or redraw electoral-district maps. Despite their superficial neutrality, these laws have a disproportionate effect on minorities and the poor, as well as students, the elderly, and those with disabilities—all groups that tend to vote Democratic.

A few of these new laws have since been blocked as violations of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In December 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice rejected a South Carolina law requiring voters to present state-issued photo identification. Last month, a federal court struck down a similar law in Texas and found that the state’s new redistricting plan intentionally diluted the voting power of its growing Hispanic communities. In Florida, meanwhile, a federal district judge blocked a law that placed heavy restrictions on voter registration, describing it as “impractical” and “burdensome,” while a federal court in Washington, D.C., rejected part of another law that gave Florida’s local election officials the authority to shorten early-voting periods—this in a state where blacks have been much more likely than whites to vote early and to register during voter drives. In Ohio, the Republican secretary of state arranged to cut back on early-voting hours in Democratic counties but not in Republican ones. After the national media got hold of the story, he was shamed into announcing that all counties would follow the same early-voting schedule after all.

But new requirements and restrictions in other states have either gone unchallenged or been upheld. Judge Robert Simpson of Pennsylvania, a Republican, found that his state’s recently adopted photo-ID requirement “is a reasonable, nondiscriminatory, nonsevere burden when viewed in the broader context of the widespread use of photo ID in daily life.” (He chose to overlook the boast of the Republican majority leader of the Pennsylvania House: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania—done.”)

Many conservatives agree with Judge Simpson. The point, they say, is not to suppress voter turnout but merely to eliminate fraud, and if this involves some inconvenience to voters, so much the better. As Florida State Senator Mike Bennett put it, “I don’t have a problem making [voting] harder. I want people in Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who walks 200 miles across the desert. This should be something you do with a passion.” William O’Brien, New Hampshire’s Republican House Speaker, argues that “voting is a duty of greater importance than taking a plane, train, or going into a commercial or federal building, which all require ID.” But voting is not just a duty; it is a right. And we do it no honor by making it unnecessarily difficult. The reason planes and trains require photo IDs is to avoid the real risk of terrorism. There is no similarly compelling reason to require photo IDs at polling stations. According to a 2011 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, “It’s more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.” The Bush Justice Department spent five years aggressively investigating voter fraud, and during that time not one person was prosecuted for impersonating an eligible voter.

The real risk for the GOP is that a high turnout among minority and low-income voters might keep Obama in the White House. As arch-conservative Matthew Vadum has explained, “the poor can be counted on to vote themselves more benefits by electing redistributionist politicians…. Registering them to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals.” The point, then, is to protect the electoral system not from fraud but from the wrong kind of voter, the kind that demands policies—on taxes, entitlements, and immigration reform—that the Republican Party is not yet willing to consider. It may take a big loss to cure them of their obstinacy.

September 10, 2012



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Well, like so many issues, this one clearly has at least two sides. Certainly there are many more. You've not done a bad job of listing some of the valid reasons why people feel differently about this than you do. Thanks for a relatively even-handed editorial.

"Many conservatives agree with Judge Simpson. The point, they say, is not to suppress voter turnout but merely to eliminate fraud, and if this involves some inconvenience to voters, so much the better."

It's necessary for a full understanding of the issue to realize that more and more investigations have failed to turn up any significant amount of voter fraud of the sort that strict ID laws could prevent. The state of Pennsylvania even stipulated in court that they hadn't found a single case.

It's painfully obvious why the current rash of voter ID laws. Just imagine who might have problems finding necessary documentation. Similar rules were put in NJ to get one's driver's license renewed. Not one man I know had any problems, but many women did, since their current names were not their birth names.  A trip to your place of marriage, a fee to get a copy of your marriage license, was what many women needed to do. Not a major deal, except it unfairly penalized women.  Girls! Don't take his name; you have one that matches your birth certificate. Others may have more hurdles. Bet they are not reasonably sucessful native born white men.


Are there plans to help people acquire the necessary identification? Time is getting short.

The laws requiring government-issued photo ID to vote are nothing more than laws intended to suppress voting by poor people.  Imagine a poor working person who has to get around by bus. He/she could easily lose a half day's work traveling to and from the State Department of Motor vehicles to obtain the necessary photo ID.  Or elderly people, who no longer have a drivers license and who also no longer have a birth certificate.

To the extent that voter fraud exists at all, it is in absentee voting, not in person voting.

This is a truly sickening development. 

But there is some hope, in Pennsylvania, at least:

- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

The Republicans are on their last Hurrah and they know it. When the demographics change in the next few years they will no longer be able to win elections.

So how does this play out with voting by mail or submitting an absentee ballot? Where does one go to show their ID? In California's last primary election, 65% of ballots cast were by mail! It would certainly seem that this is a solution in search of a problem. The GOP should apologize to the minorities, women and lower classes. This is nothing more than harrassment meant to limit voter turnout (which might tend to be Democratic votes)

 There is no similarly compelling reason to require photo IDs at polling stations.

This makes my head spin.  Fraud determines elections, period!  If it's not a big deal, why did the state of FL fight so hard to keep "dead voters" on the voting lists?  It's because "dead voters" equate to fradulent votes.

I challange anyone to find me one person who is legal and unable to vote. 

Where ARE these people?  I read a lot and listen to a lot of talk radio, and I have yet to encounter anyone who is legal and can't vote.  These people simply do not exist.  The reason is, our society demands that we have goverment ID for everything from cashing a check to getting into our local gyms.  No reasonable able bodied person would not get/have a government ID, even if said person wasn't a licensed driver (there are a lot of "non drivers" in NYC, but they all have proper ID). 

I suggest, at least in states where it matters,  we all put an ad out on our local Craigs List to find these people, and offer to drive them to the local DMV. 

We should all want fraud-free voting; both sides.  What's to fear, reality?



Patricia writes:

Where ARE these people?  I read a lot and listen to a lot of talk radio, and I have yet to encounter anyone who is legal and can't vote.  These people simply do not exist.  The reason is, our society demands that we have goverment ID for everything from cashing a check to getting into our local gyms.  No reasonable able bodied person would not get/have a government ID, even if said person wasn't a licensed driver (there are a lot of "non drivers" in NYC, but they all have proper ID).

I suggest that she is misinformed:

Studies show that as many as 11 percent of eligible voters do not have government-issued photo ID. That percentage is even higher for seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, and students. Many citizens find it hard to get government photo IDs, because the underlying documentation like birth certificates (the ID one needs to get ID) is often difficult or expensive to come by.


8% of voting age whites lack a government photo ID, while 25% of African Americans lack a government photo ID.

Massive voter disenfranchisement, for a non-existent problem.Use your common sense, what on earth would be the motivation to risk thousands of dollars in fines and a FELONY conviction to do something which most people find to be a chore?  On the individual level, it's nuts.  On the level of someone who'd try to round up a thousand people to do it, it would be criminal suicide. You can't keep a big effort buttoned down (i.e. concealed) and, again, at the individual level, it makes no sense at all.  Which is why it happens at a similar frequency to being struck by lightning.

As I wrote earlier, it's a truly sickening development, that bald faced voter suppression has become an acceptable political tactic, in America in 2012.

- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

They may "cut their own throats" if the elderly cannot vote in the "Red" states. The elderly do not necessarily vote Democratic. Believe me I know a lot of older folks in a "Blue" state that vote Republican.


Sorry not buying what you are selling Larry.  All of the above mentioned, if they are legal US Citizens, can vote by absentee.  What's the problem? 

 Is the next argument going to be some legal voters can make it to their mailboxes?

For all of you so concerned about voters' rights, where were your voices doing the Philadelphia  Blank Panther Voter Intimidation in 2008?

I am Floridian and I listened carefully to what they were saying down here about the rationale for new voter restrictions. They basically said it is more important to keep thousands of eligible voters from casting their ballots than to let one incidence of voter fraud occur. The only trouble with that theory is the speaker could not identify a single instance of voter fraud when questioned in a radio interview. That did not deter him. He insisted it is still critical to come down hard on voter fraud even though the current law seems to be working just fine. I used to live in Pennsylvania and in Ohio. Both those states sought voter restrictions. PA actually succeeded. I heard on the TV this morning that one elderly black woman who has always voted in the past in Philly and hasn't even changed her address was required to re-register with a photo ID. She had to spend four hours this week trying to get the ID. These laws have been put in place by Republican legislatures because they want to ensure that Obama is not re-elected. Just listen to the legislator in PA who said that very thing on You Tube. It is like I have awakened in another country where the rich and powerful can do whatever they want to ensure they stay in power. These people who say they value the Constitution don't want to follow it if it means a black man can be president.

Hi Patricia, Thank you. Thank you. For making my point far better than I've been able to, until this point.

To the extent that voter fraud is a problem (and it's a minuscule problem, at worst), the potential for fraud is with absentee ballots.  But the problem for the GOP is that it's hard to come up with a form of effective voter suppression at the level of absentee ballots.

So they do what they can.  What this is really all about is the Democratic ground game.  Vans and buses, taking minority voters to the polls.   Perfectly legal.  But it's a ground game the GOP can't match.  So they do all they can to neutralize it.  Through bald faced voter suppression.

You claim that there is a problem with in person voter fraud...well, prove it.  You can't.  There are actual data which exist.  Actual studies. And these studies show that the incidence of actual in person voter fraud is on the order of the incidence of humans being struck by lightning. Which is perfectly consistent with common sense expectations.  Who would risk potential fines in the thousands of dollars and a felony conviction on one's record for the personal gain of doing something (voting) which most people find to be a tedious inconvenience.

This is nothing more than 21st century Jim Crow style, poll tax style, voter suppression.  By the same people who would applaud Mitt Romney for saying that 47% of the citizens of this country are free-loading neer-do-wells.

- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

Why are you connecting me with Mitt Romney Larry?  I'm not even a Republican!  Further more, the topic is voter fraud, not Romney.  FWIW, Romney is wrong for the simple reason that many who don't pay income taxes are the low income retired elderly, of which I suspect, many are his supporters who vote.   That said, it's no secret that the democratic party couldn't exist without "entitled dependent" voters, some legit and some gaming the system.  That's reality.  The other reality is the easier it is for one to game the system, the more likely people are to do it, which is what we are now seeing.  All it takes is a majority of "the entitled" and the dems have their locked in voters for life, (well, at least until the money runs out).

In the sprirt of Catholicism/Commonweal, how can any of us sit back in silence while unemployment proliferates?  Are we now failing to understand the human dignity of work?

I don't care what side of poltics you are on, none of us as Catholics should find our current unemployment rate acceptable, or fail to hold the person at the top accountable.  And for all your concern about blacks  Larry, are you aware that black unemployment is almost at 15%? 

While you quote the next bogus "study", you simple ignore reality and the Black Panther Philadelphia Incident I mentioned in an earlier post.  Again, where were all of the concerened voices THEN for voter suppression?  You also ingored my question as to why the Democrats in FL fought so hard to keep the dead people on the voting lists; another "reality vs study." 

For the record, I'm 100% for equality in voting rights for ALL US citizens.  I simply don't think that having a goverment ID is too much to ask, especially with plenty of notice that one might be needed.  And for the record, the dems required "photo ID" for many/most of Obama's town halls/speeches.  How is that any different, unless of course, any anti-Obama folks dare to use their right to exercise free speech? 



Anyone who believes there are two sides to this non-problem has a problem, and I am praying for you.  These voter ID laws are offensive to anyone who truly believes in our system of government.  Since no dogs or billy clubs are involved, it is easy to think there is a problem with in-person voting that needs to be solved until you find out how rare voting fraud actually occurs.  It is racism, pure and simple.  Call yourself a Catholic and support these laws, I think Jesus would say you've got some 'splainin to do.

Really Cecilia? 

Allow me to give you a little history lesson.  In 2008, the SCOTUS, upheld one of the most strict voter ID laws ever for the state of Indiana.  And guess who wrote the majority decision?  John Paul Stevens.  It was a 6-2 decision.  If you are wondering why Stevens probably didn't buy the argument, it wasn't because he's a racist, but probably more owing to the fact he used to practice law in Chicago!


There have been countless stoleln elections, and certainly sufficient proof that voter fraud exists.  It's out there for those who can see beyond their own bias.  In Orange County CA, in the close race between Loretta Sanchez and Dorman, it was shown that 900 votes were cast by NON US CITIZENS.  I also remember a tight election in the state of WA where the recount showed 500 voters with the same home address.  It happens, it's real, and it has nothing to do with race, only politics.

Again, I remind you, that the dems in FL didn't fight to keep "dead voters" on the active voting list for no good reason.  Every person who votes twice steals the vote of every US Citizen who voted.  That's why it matters.

To bring this to the level of Jim Crow Racism is yet another example of how the blacks and Latinos are one again exploited for political gain. 

And FWIW, thanks to the dems, the term "racist" now simply means, "Not agreeing with the right; not having a real argument."  Don't blame me, they created it, while relegating any real racism like black genocide that still does exisit in this country. 

FYI, my last word on this thread,  worth the read for all with open hearts and minds:  Accusation that Voter ID is Racist Demeans Blacks.


Hello, everyone.  I am Cecilia and I am African-American.  And it is absolutely true that voter ID laws are racist.  I think I know what is demeaning, and it is demeaning to enact laws for the sole purpose of disenfranchising folks like me, Latino citizens, the elderly, college students and veterans.  There is no documented instance of widespread voter fraud.  Those of you who want to believe it are suspicious of folks not like you.  To "them" you ascribe vile motivations.  You are driven by fear.  Too bad you do not follow the Gospel.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment