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Voter Suppression: Background

Posted by Will Rice (will) on Aug 05 2011 at 12:53 PM
ADA Today >>

By John Heenehan

Republicans have taken advantage of their electoral success in 2010 by proposing or passing legislation in 32 states to limit access to the ballot through onerous voter ID laws. It’s clear the aim of these new laws is not to protect the integrity of the electoral system but to enhance the ability of the GOP to win more elections.

At no time in the legislative floor debates was proof offered of the kind of voter fraud the new laws are ostensibly meant to combat.  Lori Minnite, a political science professor at Barnard College and co-author of “Keeping Down the Black Vote: Race and the Demobilization of American Voters”, studied the phenomenon of voter fraud for eight years. Her conclusion:  the problem is grossly exaggerated--comically so, if the subject weren’t so serious.

Between 2002 and 2005, for example, only 26 people nationwide--all unrelated--were convicted of crimes such as registration fraud, voting while ineligible, or voting more than once. In many states there are no recent cases of prosecuted and convicted fraudulent voters. The U.S. Justice Department has similarly found no evidence of significant voter fraud nationally.

The new and proposed voter laws require government-issued photo IDs or other documents (such as a birth certificate) to prove citizenship. In some states, the number of acceptable documents is highly restrictes, the period for casting absentee ballots would be shortened, and residency time requirements would be lengthened.

So what’s behind these vote-suppression efforts? Though there’s no trend of increased voter fraud, there is a demographic trend that’s worrying Republican strategists. Their older white voter base is shrinking as a proportion of the electorate in the face of growing numbers of younger black and Hispanic voters, who tend to vote heavily Democratic.

A November 2007 study by the Brennan Center for Justice concluded that as many as 11 percent of U.S. citizens – mostly older, low-income and minority citizens – lack government-issued photo IDs. All of these groups are reliable Democratic voters.

The Center concluded these laws will likely be knocked down as unconstitutional unless they make photo IDs available to all voters for free, make them easily available, and undertake substantial voter outreach and public education efforts.  But it’s clear that increased voter outreach and education are  precisely what the GOP backers of these new laws are not interested in pursuing.

Why would Republicans put so much effort into depressing the Democratic base, rather than energizing their own?

Minnite told Slate in an Oct. 15, 2008, interview: “There is a logic that suggests that demobilizing your opponent’s voters is actually more efficient than building up your base. When you get new voters, you run the risk of destabilizing your coalition, whereas there is less of a hazard in depressing your opponent’s voter turnout.”

This is the true electoral fraud.  Where is the Republican outrage?

John F. Heenehan is a principal at Rubicon Crossing Communications.