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Monday, October 10, 2011

The Republican Attack on Democracy

The Republican war on voting actually serves two purposes. The most obvious is in preventing people from exercising their most fundamental right as an American, while the second is to create yet another culture war wedge issue. Hordes of illegal aliens are voting, they argue -- without evidence. In other cases, people vote twice or in the wrong district, in order to elect their candidates. The problem with this scenario is that the one high-profile case I can think of involved someone who would most definitely not vote dem. Still, it fosters the divisive "us-vs-them" hysteria that Republicans love so.

The New York Times editorial board points out just how phantasmagorical the idea of widespread voter fraud really is.

Woman votingIn Kansas, the secretary of state, Kris Kobach (who also wrote Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant law), pushed for an ID law on the basis of a list of 221 reported instances of voter fraud in Kansas since 1997. Even if that were true, it would be an infinitesimal percentage of the votes cast during that period, but it is not true.

When The Wichita Eagle looked into the local cases on the list, the newspaper found that almost all were honest mistakes: a parent trying to vote for a student away at college, or signatures on mail-in ballots that didn’t precisely match those on file. In one case of supposed “fraud,” a confused non-citizen was asked at the motor vehicles bureau whether she wanted to fill out a voter registration form, and did so not realizing she was ineligible to vote.


Some of the desperate Republican attempts to keep college students from voting are almost comical in their transparent partisanship. No college ID card in Wisconsin meets the state’s new stringent requirements (as lawmakers knew full well), so the elections board proposed that colleges add stickers to the cards with expiration dates and signatures. Republican lawmakers protested that the stickers would lead to -- yes, voter fraud.

And Wisconsin Republicans have the oddest rationale for their actions. When confronted with all the facts showing that there is no widespread voter fraud and their own inability come up with just one case where fraud changed the election results, they say it doesn't matter. What's important is that people have "faith in elections." Even if there isn't any widespread fraud, people believe there is (wonder where they got that idea?). And it's important -- for reasons that aren't immediately obvious or even logical -- that we address those imaginary concerns. Never mind that it's going to cost the state $7.5 million to assure everyone that there aren't monsters hiding under their bed. It's important that people feel good about elections, even if the concerns they have are fantasy-based.

Add to this the fact that -- as I've pointed out before -- people have a lot more reason to blame Republicans for casting doubt on elections and you start to see an extremely pointless endeavor from any perspective other than just suppressing the vote. Voter ID has been called a solution in search of a problem. In fact, a problem exists -- elections riddled with corruption and a lack of transparency -- but Republicans don't want to deal with that, because it works to their advantage.

Meanwhile, the Brennan Center for Justice has released a report showing that new voting restrictions nationwide "could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012." Five million legitimate votes are a lot to sacrifice to salve a paranoid populace's fear of a non-existent crisis of voter fraud. Republicans argue that citizens shouldn't have to worry about their votes being "cancelled out" by illegitimate voters -- apparently, by making sure that many have no votes to cancel out.

"It’s arguably the nation’s most important political scandal," writes Steve Benen, "and most of the country has never heard a word about it." I couldn't agree more. There are few things more unamerican than taking votes away from legitimate voters. They may wear those stupid little lapel pins and pledge allegiance and wave the flag, but Republicans -- in this instance at least -- can be shown to have no respect for American values. Worse, by undoing democracy, they take away the very foundation of the American political system -- a "government of the people, by the people, for the people."

A Republican came up with that phrase. How far that party has strayed.


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