Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Voting rights

Below is a video of Mitt Romney answering a woman's question about the Justice Department's challenge to a voter id statute in South Carolina. He asks the well-heeled crowd if there is anyone over 18 who does not have a photo id, and of course no hands go up. How much of a burden can it be then, to ask for such a simple little thing to be allowed to vote? You can't drive or get on a plane without a photo id. Why should you be allowed to vote? There is a sub-text here, suggesting that anyone who can't be bothered to comply with such a trivial little requirement probably doesn't even deserve to vote, but that is not stated. What is stated is the need to prevent people from voting multiple times. How can we not take action to prevent such abuses?

Practically every word Romney says about voter id laws in this video is false. It is false to suggest that this issue is just a matter of opinion between people of Romney's views and people of Eric Holder's views. It is not. It is a legal issue. It is false to claim as Romney does that picture ids can easily be obtained for free at the polling place. Romney pulls that idea right out of his hat. It is false to argue that photo id laws are needed to prevent people from voting multiple times. That is a non-existent problem in this country. And it is false to assert that photo id laws will not trouble anyone, because it has been documented that they have the effect of discouraging significant numbers of eligible voters from casting a ballot.

Here are some of the legal issues that candidates like Mitt Romney are deliberately ignoring: Eric Holder is under an obligation to enforce the Federal Voting Rights Act. States that are subject to the pre-clearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act--i.e., those states that for literally hundreds of years engaged in systematically preventing black people from voting--must submit proposed changes in their election procedures to the Justice Department for review to determine whether they might have the effect of disenfranchising minorities. Pursuant to the legal requirements of the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department last week rejected South Carolina's newly-enacted voter id law, based on evidence that minority voters are 20% more likely to lack a photo id than white voters. Thus, the voter id requirement will likely have the effect of hindering voters who are legally entitled to cast a ballot, and this effect will unquestionably fall more heavily on black people than white people.

South Carolina was required to justify these new requirements in order to obtain approval, and it is noteworthy, according to the article linked above, that their submission to the Justice Department failed to include any evidence or examples of fraud that were not already adequately addressed by existing procedures.  So Romney is actually saying is that if he were president, he would instruct attorneys at the Justice Department to ignore the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, and approve South Carolina's new restrictions on the ability to vote, even if those restrictions disproportionately affect minority voters, and even if South Carolina is unable to offer any evidence justifying those restrictions. At the very least, he is pre-judging an issue that he knows next to nothing about, and unfairly disparaging Justice Department attorneys who are only trying to enforce the law.

This is a legal issue, but is being treated as a political issue by candidates eager to play on the fears of some segments of the electorate that we are being overrun with voters who are not qualified to vote, or voters attempting to cast multiple ballots. Actual cases of such fraud, despite heroic efforts to find them, are practically non-existent. The real problem we have in this country is not voter fraud. The real problem we have is low voter turnout. The thing we need to be doing is making efforts to encourage a larger percentage of eligible voters to participate; not making it more difficult for eligible voters to cast a ballot.


17 comments:

  1. The patient has cancer and Romney talks about whether we should clip his toe nails. Classic.

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  2. Meanwhile, two thirds of all of this patient's expenses go to service his current debt. Why is Romney talking about toe nails instead of a cure for cancer?

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  3. If the country is a patient, I would not compare voting rights to toe nails. I would compare voting to the heart. Unless we have a working democracy that people have some confidence in, we can't achieve anything else in politics.

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  4. << Unless we have a working democracy that people have some confidence in, we can't achieve anything else in politics. >>

    You hit the nail on the head! However, you are mistaken about what causes citizens to lose confidence in our democracy. Because a small group on the left or right is emotional about a supposed problem -- something so insignificant to the rest of us is mid boggling.

    Voting rights are in place and if voting rights are a valid analogy to the human heart, it is exceptionally health and disease free! The left vs right arguement about voting rights in the middle of our nations fight against cancer is like saying take an aspirin and call me in the morning to a heart attack victim.

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  5. I do get upset if I hear that anybody has been denied the chance to vote, for whatever reason. Like those 80 or 90 year old nuns who were turned away from the polls in Indiana a couple of years ago because they didn't have drivers' licenses.

    What I don't understand is why anyone would think that is an insignificant problem. If you're the person who is prevented from voting, nothing could be more significant.

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  6. Interesting question, Joe, and I agree with you. Your arguements support the arguements of those who you speak against. All they want is to protect our most sacred right -- the vote. One false vote undoes mine or wrongly supports my poiint of view.

    No one should be denied their right to vote, unless they can't substantiate their right to vote. On the other hand, why are you not concerned about voting irregularities? It's not accurate to say there are not valid concerns.

    If you live in the dark you might not know you have termites. Do you want to know if you have termites? I want to know and at the same time I want to protect every citizen's right to vote. Why can't we do both? Why are you so sure we can't do both?

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  7. The answer to your question is that I suspect their motives, i'm sorry to say. The people sponsoring these voter id laws would support a poll tax for Democrats if they could get away with it.

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  8. They would say the same about your motives. Knowing you, I know your motives are true. Similarly, we need to understand that the other side is equally ethical and interested in protecting our votes and right to vote. The far left and right live in an uncomfortable world; almost paranoid and cynical. I know, I know, poor Kevin doesn't get it. You 10% on the left and right have it all figured out like HELL and HEAVEN.

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  9. Even former liberal Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens agrees. Stevens wrote in a 6-3 majority opinion upholding an Indiana voter ID law: "That flagrant examples of [voter] fraud...have been documented throughout this Nation's history by respected historians and journalists...demonstrate[s] that not only is the risk of voter fraud real but that it could affect the outcome of a close election."

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  10. I'm as big an admirer of Justice Stevens as anyone, but the fact that the Court decided not to invalidate a statute proves nothing. It doesn't even prove whether Justice Stevens himself thought the statute was a good idea. All it proves is that the court at that time decided it had no basis for overturning the statute.

    And no one denies that there have been some cases of voter fraud. What can be shown, however, is that it is not a serious problem, and also that voter id laws do have the unfortunate effect of making it harder for people who do not have ids to vote.

    And these statutes are only supported by Republican legislatures, and they do it only for political purposes, which Stevens acknowledged in that same opinion. Low turnout is a much, much bigger problem in this country than voter fraud. Because we have such low turnout, it is easier to round up legitimate voters than it is to resort to the tricks you need to resort to in order to get people to vote twice. But these same Republican legislatures that pass these voter id laws also oppose every effort to make it easier for legitimate voters to register to vote, such as motor voter. And interestingly, they also aren't all that concerned about making the rules stricter for absentee ballots, which is probably the easiest way to commit fraud. And that is because the people who vote absentee tend to skew more Republican, than the people who show up at the polls to vote.

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  11. Good points Joe. Is it fair to say that we could take steps to restore voter trust on both sides? I agree with your concerns. But distrust risks breeding questionable behavior from the left and right. I am arguing your position on a consrvative blog. Do you think there is a way forward that ensures voter trust?

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  12. I think it is extremely difficult to make any headway on this issue, for two reasons. One is that it is to the conservatives' partisan advantage to discourage the old, the sick, the poor, and maybe even those who are too stupid to deal with any complications in registering to vote, from voting, because all those groups tend to skew more Democratic. And the second reason is that ideologically, conservatives see nothing wrong with imposing some minimum threshold requirements for voting. That kind of thinking dates back to Colonial times, when only people with property could vote. It's a respectable argument, in fact, but nowadays you can't come right out and make it because we have accepted the principle of universal suffrage so completely. So if you are conservative, you have to talk about voter fraud. It's harder to argue that people who can't figure out how to register or get a photo id don't deserve to vote, although some do make that argument.

    So all I can think of to deal with those people, is to keep trying to prove that we have very little voter fraud in this country, and already have pretty decent methods of dealing with it. I don't know about your precinct, but where I vote there are three or four people scrutinizing me when I sign my name to take a ballot. I'd be pretty scared to show up twice and claim to be somebody else the second time.

    So people on my side of this issue just have to keep pushing to make it easier to vote, understanding that the people on the other side are always going to oppose those efforts. On some issues, it's hard to get a consensus. So we just end up with laws that pull in opposite directions.

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  13. << I don't know about your precinct, but where I vote there are three or four people scrutinizing me when I sign my name to take a ballot. I'd be pretty scared to show up twice and claim to be somebody else the second time. >>

    I understand you, even the concept of commiting crime makes you uncomfortable. Me too! Unfortunately, our prisons hold persons who do not agree. In fact, more law breakers are running around among us than are in prison. From Wall Street to drug dealers, to attorneys to physicians to politicians, criminals live and committ crime among us.

    The IRS reported yesterday that 17% of all taxes went unpaid in 2006. That was greater than the fiscal year's budget deficit! Further, they estimate that 56% of taxes owed go unpaid when little or no information is required.

    Given the amount of fraud we see, why do you assume it isn't happening at the ballot? How would we know if it was?

    In my precinct we vote in a clean garage where three to four garnnys donate their time. They don't know me from Adam and refuse to look at my ID (which I offer each time I go for the last decade to make a point). They certainly don't know my 20 year old from my 24 year old. It would be rediculously easy to side step laws. I magine much easier than stealing an ID inline or selling cocaine.

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  14. OK, so when you show up in the garage, the four grannies might not know who you are, but they will ask your name and address and make you sign right below where you signed last year to compare the signatures. But the real problem for you will come if you try to come back later in the day and impersonate your neighbor. Because then one of the grannies might say, hey, wasn't he here earlier in the day, or hey, he doesn't look much like [whomever it is you are trying to impersonate]. And the same thing might happen if you travel across town to vote in another precinct. So we do have some pretty good protections against fraud.

    But given our pathetically low turnout, why would anyone go to the trouble of pretending to be someone else to vote? Campaigns get more bang for the buck with registration drives and get out the vote drives. They spend their time dragging their supporters out to the polls. They don't need to find fraudulent voters.

    Again, I never said that voting fraud never happens. What I said was that it is a relatively insignificant problem, and that voter id laws have the effect of discouraging people from voting more than they help prevent fraud.

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  15. << OK, so when you show up in the garage, the four grannies might not know who you are, but they will ask your name and address and make you sign right below where you signed last year to compare the signatures. >>

    There is no comparison of signatures. I could be anyone on earth. I walk in, give my name, they see no one has signed yet and I vote. Each time I say to them "I could be anyone" and I get the "move along and don't bother me look because I am just here volunteering and doing my job". Very disturbing to me because my vote is so important to me. It stinks.

    << But the real problem for you will come if you try to come back later in the day and impersonate your neighbor. Because then one of the grannies might say, hey, wasn't he here earlier in the day, or hey, he doesn't look much like [whomever it is you are trying to impersonate]. >>

    Nope, that is not what I am talking about. More likely, anyone could show up in that garage I go to with the knowledge that x,y or z isn’t voting and vote for them.

    We have issues. You must remember "Landslide Lyndon", the Chicago machine involving Kennedy and his election. Then we had the Gore vs Bush fiasco. As well, there are negative questions about Truman's history in early politics and abuses aganst Jimmy Carter early on (which he sued over).

    Back to personal voting; in my view, some people may be voting in place of others who do vote. I think that happens more often than you want to consider and more often than the nuns example. Both are very wrong; so measures should be taken to avoid both. We do everything we can to avoid convicting an innocent man of crime. So much so we would rather let criminals go free than convict innocents. But in this situation we are nto doing enough. We can do more to have a more fair elections.

    Most importantly, as you have pointed out, we need to raise voter turnout.
    To be clear, low voter turnout is not due to disenfranchisement. It is due to disinterest.

    << But given our pathetically low turnout, why would anyone go to the trouble of pretending to be someone else to vote? Campaigns get more bang for the buck with registration drives and get out the vote drives. They spend their time dragging their supporters out to the polls. They don't need to find fraudulent voters. >>

    I agree. But given all the voter registration drives we still have an electorate that is split nearly 50/50. We still have state elections decided by 8 votes; hundreds of votes and thousands of votes. I think we are all aware of contested elections recently.

    << Again, I never said that voting fraud never happens. What I said was that it is a relatively insignificant problem, and that voter id laws have the effect of discouraging people from voting more than they help prevent fraud. >>

    We disagree and I think your position is a small majority. Like raising taxes on anyone who makes over $250,000 is popular with nearly 70% of Anericans, asking for voter ID is overwhelmingly supported.

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  16. The examples you give of Johnson's 1948 Senate election, Kennedy's 1960 election and the Florida recount in 1960 have nothing to do with the kind of voter fraud we are talking about, and would not be fixed by requiring people to show a drivers' license. They have to do with corrupt election officials, and poor methods of counting the votes.

    Whether voter id laws are popular or not is completely irrelevant. We are talking about individuals' constitutional rights, individual rights that are also protected by the Federal Voting Rights Act. That means if one person is wrongfully denied the right to vote, that is a potential constitutional problem, even if 99% of the population thinks it is a good idea to send people home who forgot to bring their drivers' license to the polls. I don't care whether a majority favor voter id laws, just like I wouldn't care whether a majority favored poll taxes, or taking the vote away from blacks or women. First we have an obligation to make sure that everybody gets a chance to vote. Then we worry about protecting against the virtually non-existent problem of people trying to vote more than once.

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  17. << The examples you give of Johnson's 1948 Senate election, Kennedy's 1960 election and the Florida recount in 1960 have nothing to do with the kind of voter fraud we are talking about, and would not be fixed by requiring people to show a drivers' license. They have to do with corrupt election officials, and poor methods of counting the votes. >>

    Yes, I thought I made that clear when I said "Back to personal voting".

    Other than that, we both want to protect the individual's constitutional right to vote. Your constitutional right to vote means you have to be registered. If you don't register you cannot vote. It happened to my daughter. She was not denied the right to vote; she failed in her responsibility to register. You and I could argue that we ought to do more to assist others get registered and then motivating them to vote. That is the number one goal. That is the hurdle. Once done, showing an ID is not a hurdle. A false argument.

    We only vote every couple years. Here is a checklist for voters and voter's caregivers before leaving home to vote: (1) am I registered to vote? (2) do I have pants on? (3) How am I going to get to the right polling place? Have someone take you, walk, ride your bike or drive. Step one, two and three is enough to remind you or you and your caregiver to bring your ID. For goodness sakes, you are going to VOTE. (4) show an ID (5) cast your vote.

    I have been seeing patients for 30 years and no one has ever -- ever -- forgotten their ID coming into my office. And I see all kinds of patients with or without the ability to pay. I don't turn any patients away.

    In my office, those being charged have felt their pockets (oh my gosh) when it came time to pay and said "I forgot my checkbook". But even those scammers had ID. Whether the ID was real or not is a separate issue. It wasn’t too many times to recount.

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