Political Animal

Blog

March 26, 2012 3:31 PM Burden of Proof

By Ed Kilgore

One of the most predictable characteristics of the battle over voting rights in this country, which now largely centers on Republican efforts in a number of states to institute various photo ID requirements, is a very different take on the burden of proof. Again and again, progressives point to the signal lack of evidence of any “voter fraud” problem anywhere. In Texas, the state that has filed suit to strike down the entire preclearance procedure of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because the Justice Department refused to preclear its new photo ID law, there have been during the last two election cycles a grand total of four allegations made to the Attorney General’s office of people ineligible to vote impersonating qualified voters. As Think Progress’ Josh Israel notes, these are pretty damning statistics:

Though [Gov. Rick] Perry has claimed Texas has endured “multiple cases” of voter fraud, even of the paltry 20 election law violation allegations the state’s attorney general handled in the 2008 and 2010 elections, most related to mail-in ballot or campaign finance violations, electioneering too close to a polling place, and a voter blocked by an election worker.
It is unclear how many Texans attempt to illegally check out library books while impersonating neighbors or dead people, each year. But in a state of more than 25 million people, the odds of being even accused of voter impersonation in the Lone Star State are less than one in 6,250,000.

Conservatives typically ignore these numbers and instead of answering “why” new and burdensome voting requirements need to be instituted, ask “why not,” comparing proposed voting hurdles to the identification often demanded for various legal or commercial transactions, or more indirectly, asking why honest people would object to verification of their identities? Others rely on public opinion polls to “prove” the reasonableness of voter ID laws, a particularly shaky argument for conservatives who in other contexts believe unnecessary regulations and mandates are intolerable regardless of public support for their purposes.

Aside from the obvious fact that people in both parties understand these requirements would have a disproportionate impact on people more likely to vote Democratic, this kind of dispute often misses the rather obvious point that many conservatives do not view participation in elections as a fundamental right of citizenship. Occasionally they even admit it, but more often that conviction is simply reflected in how the question of “voter fraud versus voting rights” is framed. Anyone viewing the right to vote as fundamental is most unlikely to support burdens placed upon it without a compelling case to show the burden is necessary. “It wouldn’t hurt you” arguments or comparisons to other transactions that do not involve the exercise of fundamental rights are irrelevant.

No wonder a growing number of conservatives favor repeal of the Voting Rights Act altogether. The reasoning is closely parallel to the now-common-place argument on the Right that the discrimination against people of color is largely a thing of the past, and that exceptional government efforts to fight such discrimination amount to a racist effort to discriminate against white people. If that’s the case, then “why not” make access to the ballot just like any other public service, many of which are conditional on compliance with all sorts of rules?

So while the debate over voting in this country often sounds like a competition of people with competing views of the facts, it’s really not: it’s a matter of basic values, and of the burden of proof borne by those who support or oppose a right to vote.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Patrick Star on March 26, 2012 3:55 PM:

    Great analysis, Ed; I think you nailed it. It's simple, really - you can't screw over poor people if they can vote you out of office. That's why fascists, er, conservatives, hate those pesky free, fair and transparent elections.

  • MuddyLee on March 26, 2012 4:18 PM:

    I think that conservatives somehow think it's wrong for poor people to vote because they will vote for candidates who support programs to help the poor. But somehow it's OK for rich people to vote for candidates who will support tax breaks for rich people - AND - it's OK for rich people to give unlimited amounts of money to influence elections and to reduce the taxes that they pay to extremely low levels a la Mitt Romney. So Ed is right - conservatives don't really believe in "the right to vote" the same way moderates and liberals do.

  • SteveT on March 26, 2012 4:34 PM:

    The South Carolina Election Commission investigated more than 200 allegations of dead people voting in the 2010 elections.
    http://springvalley.patch.com/articles/election-director-no-proof-of-dead-voters

    They found that the number of people who used a dead person's identity to vote illegally was exactly the same as the number of human-looking androids who travel back in time from an apocalyptic future to vote illegally.

    It was also the same as the number of:

    - demons who possess human bodies in order to vote illegally

    - replicant humans who are grown in plant pods from outer space who vote illegally

    - space alien-created clones who vote illegally

    - people who drink polyjuice potion to assume other people's identity in order to vote illegally

    - slimy slug-like creatures from outer space who control humans by attaching tendrils to their spinal cord and vote illegally

    Clearly the GOPs "voter fraud" legislation needs a wider focus than just keeping poor and dark-skinned people from voting.

  • emjayay on March 26, 2012 5:42 PM:

    Nothing could be more conservative than limiting the voting franchise. In the early years of the country, only men and only those with some amount of property could vote, maybe a third of men. Except in New Jersey, who later reconsidered the women voting thing and got rid of it. The property requirement seems to go back to the more English idea of educated/wealthy/elite/aristocrats being those who should be involved in running things, not the uneducated common folk. All sounds pretty Republican to me.

    Obviously the more modern mistake of letting the rabble vote is generally dealt with by Republicans by fooling the less sophisticated with massive modern advertising, owning the media, running wolves-in-sheep-clothing outlets like Fox "News," and exploiting their prejudices and charmingly provincial religious views and attitudes.

  • DKDC on March 26, 2012 6:09 PM:

    I find it a bit odd that the voter ID legislation focuses so heavily on photo identification. It seems prone to error. Appearances changes and humans actually aren't all that good and positively identifying other humans visually. Biometric indicators would seem more reliable and more efficient too. No need to update your biometrics. Measure once, put it in a database. Of course it does raise some potentially troubling issues with personal privacy, but if republicans really were interested in election integrity, they would be focusing so heavily on such flawed technology for identification.

  • T-Rex on March 26, 2012 6:23 PM:

    James O'Keefe, ironically, exploded one of the most popular myths about voting fraud, when he tried to obtain a ballot in the name of a dead man. Turns out our James didn't do very good research, because although a man by that name had in fact died, his son was very much alive and still legally registered to vote, and O'Keefe got his sorry arse busted. I'm still waiting to hear the outcome of that case, hoping he goes to the slammer, but afraid that he'll get the Ann Coulter treatment instead (IOKIYAR).

  • Dredd on March 26, 2012 7:11 PM:

    Voter ID is just another word for oppression, so add it to the long list of GOP oppression techniques.

  • John Robert BEHRMAN on March 26, 2012 7:11 PM:

    You think politicos -- campaign consultants, bundlers, and professionl office-seeker/holders -- fail to take actual political science into account? How about their 2wk-2yr grasp of history and indifference to those of us who work in polls and retail politics?

    As one wag put it: The GOP fears its base, the Democrats disdain theirs.

    It is no surprise to me that Barack Obama came out of pretty much the only Northern Democratic municipal political machine left today and trounced centralized patronage machines that focus on state and, of course, the national capitol.

    Here in Texas that would be the Speaker's Claque in Austin and Local Chapters of the DCCC such as the one in Dallas headed by Martin Frost in Washington. This sort of party -- a patronage-chain funded almost entirely by government concession-holders or legatees of the most recent "bubble" -- has nothing but disdain for voters and and virtually no political proficiency other than racial gerrymandering and media strategies based on segmented marketing.

    So, the "Voter ID" controversy originated on the right here but has played out mostly as race-based litigation and grandstanding on the left. Nowhere has the work of Alexander Keyssar been cited or any effort made to deal with the fact that those favoring a property-qualified franchise -- Federalist/Whigs -- have held that position consistently since 1789 and adhere to it today by whatever legal or practical political means are available to them -- the Help America Vote Act most recently.

    That is a federal tool of economic discrimination -- a "credit-scored franchise" -- that the Democratic party establishment mostly embraces and that 60's vintage "civil rights" legislation is simply not very effective against.

    Thus, while the DoJ has not pre-cleared a discriminatory Voter ID bill in Texas (an ex-Confederate state), it is helpless against the very same provsions of state law being advanced by ALEC in, say, Wisconsin or Indiana, which did not start or lose the Civil War. Oh, boy, wait 'til that hits the SCOTUS.

    Actually, Texas has a fine, old constitution with provision for universal suffrage. Why, Lordy, it disenfranchises only wards (children, conficts, and mentally deficient persons) who could not cast a ballot freely anyway.

    But, Texas has always had -- under both parties -- an effective system of disqualifying pretty much any voters but "white homeowners" as the Democratic Party establishment phrased it back in 1928. Today, the GOP and their "inclusive" collaborators "target likely voters" with all the bi-partisan condescension they can muster.

    The problem is that universal suffrage is and always was -- since the Roman republic and the only other one around when Franklin made his "... if you can keep it remark", Switzerland, -- predicated on a military obligation -- militia -- coterminous with the electorate.

    Ah, but cringing liberals today want to dispense a right to vote from a position of privilge not on any egalitarian basis at all. That way they can privilege political donors and professionals over political actors: That would be people who have only one vote and react viscerally to the notion that anyone can cancel theirs out. Who is to say the occasional instance of "voter fraud" or the still rather usual "vote fraud" is not cancelling out the only vote any one person has?

    That very personal aspect of voting makes the right fearful of "unqualified voters" but it also leaves many in the Democratic majority humiliated and distrustful of the contemptuous legalism and complex, costly, unreliable, officious, and insecure "management systems" that Democrats and Republicans have couched everything having to to with elections in.

    So, what we see in more than just suffrage is a Federalist/Whig party that has rejected bi-partisanship -- save for earmarks -- and a Democratic rump party th

  • John Robert BEHRMAN on March 26, 2012 7:18 PM:

    Cont'd

    The problem is that universal suffrage is and always was -- since the Roman republic and the only other one around when Franklin made his "... if you can keep it remark", Switzerland, -- predicated on a military obligation -- militia -- coterminous with the electorate.

    Ah, but cringing liberals today want to dispense a right to vote from a position of privilge not on any egalitarian basis at all. That way they can privilege political donors and professionals over political actors: That would be people who have only one vote and react viscerally to the notion that anyone can cancel theirs out. Who is to say the occasional instance of "voter fraud" or the still rather usual "vote fraud" is not cancelling out the only vote any one person has?

    That very personal aspect of voting makes the right fearful of "unqualified voters" but it also leaves many in the Democratic majority humiliated and distrustful of the contemptuous legalism and complex, costly, unreliable, officious, and insecure "management systems" that Democrats and Republicans have couched everything having to to with elections in.

    So, what we see in more than just suffrage is a Federalist/Whig party that has rejected bi-partisanship -- save for earmarks -- and a Democratic rump party that does not know what to do with a legislative majority or minority other than collaborate on ... earmarks and incumbent protection -- something the GOP today is actually much better at than the Democrats who invented most of it.

    Well, in Texas there is so much discrimination already built-in to bi-partisan election law and to elections "administration" that SB-14 may or may not have either the effect intended by the right or feared by the left on the margin. In fact, the Democratic legislators and litigators have carefully avoided discovering exactly who has a VRC but lacks a TDL. The two parties have dueled with "polls" and "projections". They have had an actual list before them but have carefully avoided looking at it.

    The demoralization of my Democratic constituents is probably greater than their disqualification. In any case, the term "disenfranchise" is just one that grandstanding politicos throw around in studied ignorance -- "a kind of learning" Bart Simpson might say.

    As Keyssar notes of the utterly unsettled matter of the right to vote only wars have attenuated the legal ambiguity erected by those in both parties seeking to protect their political incumbency and class or racial privileges from mere voters. Sadly, Democrats say we are all for "peace" but we don't really know how to maintain it like, say, Switzerland or ... Rome. It takes strong, egalitarian -- actually republican -- civic and, yes, military institutions, not just a bunch of white, male lawyers who think they are playing "Atticus Finch" in a black-and-white movie.

    =====
    John Robert BEHRMAN is State Democratic Executive Committeeman for SD-13 and, until recently, Presiding Judge of the Early Voting Ballot Board in Harris County, the third largest and most diverse Democratic majority county in the nation.

  • Mark Kawakami on March 26, 2012 10:43 PM:

    Yeah, this has always been my view on voter ID or other voting restrictions: Citizens have a right to their vote. Any registered voter is still a registered voter with or without his or her photo ID. So any time a voter ID law turns away someone ineligible to vote, then great, it preserved Democracy that tiny bit. But any time a voter ID law turns away someone who is eligible to vote, then it has hurt Democracy that tiny bit.

    So the math become simple: How many times do we help Democracy vs. how many times we hurt it when we have a voter ID law. It's pretty clear the answer results in a massive hurt.

    It is -- and should be -- a crime to allow anyone to vote who has no standing to vote. But it's a far worse crime to deny a vote to anyone who should get one.

  • JEA on March 27, 2012 8:33 AM:

    You're making the wrong argument.

    For years now, conservatives have argued that regulations put unnecessary burdens on law-abiding citizens, such as gun laws, while not punishing criminals. ‘Passing gun laws burden regular citizens while not doing anything to reduce crime,’ they claim.

    Well, this works exactly the same on the voter ID law. They're putting burdensome regulations on law-abiding citizens to catch 4 criminals.

    This is the argument liberals should be using. Bash them back with THEIR OWN arguments.

  • JCtx on March 27, 2012 12:30 PM:

    I think there may be way to turn the whole voter id thing into a win for Democrats and progressives.

    If someone can create public service ads that run all the time in all of the states that have voter id laws informing the public of what the facts are about the law (i.e. that you have to have photo id, the id must be a certain type, the id may be obtained in the following manner and who to contact if you have problems getting an id).

    This would highlight the problems with the id to begin with and also force Repubs to say why they are putting barriers in front of voters. It might also encourage voter turnout if more voters take the time to go out and get the id to begin with.

    It would also be helpful if Democratic organizations could provide help lines that would provide support for people to get ids by giving them rides or something.