The partisan thuggery of voter restrictions
The Kansas City Star
With the nominating conventions over, the scramble to register voters has begun.
Campaigns have their work cut out. A number of states have been working overtime for two years or longer to make it harder for people to register and vote.
While professing to abhor burdensome regulations imposed by government, Republican-controlled legislatures have had no problem placing onerous restrictions on voter registration and voting itself.
They have passed laws requiring citizens to produce government documents — not always easily obtained — to take part in a basic right of citizenship.
They have moved to curtail early voting, especially in areas with a high population of citizens who are poor or belong to minority groups and tend to vote Democratic.
The scramble among GOP officeholders to curtail voting rights under the guise of cracking down on the almost non-existent problem of people voting under a false identity is a shameful display of partisan thuggery.
Republicans make a show of denying that they have anything in mind but upholding the integrity of the electoral process. But a GOP legislative leader in Pennsylvania spilled the beans recently when he exulted that a new law requiring government-issued photo IDs “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
Fortunately, most courts have seen through the sham. Last month, federal judges issued rulings striking down or curtailing limits on early voting in Ohio, restrictions on voter registration drives in Texas and Florida, and a photo ID requirement in Texas. The Texas ruling on voter registration has since been put on hold by a federal appeals court.
Kansas began requiring a government-issued photo ID for the first time earlier this year and will continue to do so in November. More onerous requirements for persons attempting to register to vote are scheduled to take effect next year. Kansas lawmakers shouldn’t wait for a court challenge; they should do the right thing and lift restrictions that make voting more difficult for the elderly and other citizens.
In Missouri, several legislative attempts to requiring a photo ID to vote have been struck down by court decisions or a veto by the governor. Photo ID is likely to become a campaign issue in the secretary of state’s race, however, as the Republican candidate is pushing hard to demand it.
The rush for photo identification at the precincts comes despite almost no evidence that people vote under false identities.
The Republican National Lawyers Association last year published a report citing 400 prosecutions of election fraud in the United States over a decade. But that’s less than one per state per year, and includes offenses such as using the wrong address.
Another recent study by News 21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, analyzed 2,068 reported cases of voter fraud and found that only 10 since 2000 involved persons attempting to vote using fraudulent identities. That represents one case of in-person fraud for every 15 million voters.
Meanwhile, a recent review by the Associated Press found that 1,200 votes were disqualified in just two states — Indiana and Georgia — during the 2008 general election because citizens failed to bring the proper identification to the polls. Many of those whose votes didn’t count had been exercising their franchise for years.
Many legislatures, especially those in hotly contested swing states, are now moving beyond photo ID requirements and passing laws designed to make it harder to register voters. Other states are curtailing advance voting, which is favored by minorities in urban areas.
In an especially outrageous development, Ohio’s Republican secretary of state was instrumental in cutting back early voting hours in urban areas, while actually expanding them in counties that typically favor Republicans. The elections official, John Husted, ordered consistent early voting hours after an uproar ensued. But his order prevents election boards from opening on weekends, when many working people could take advantage of the access.
Campaigns and other groups are working to get around the requirements by reaching out to prospective voters through direct mail and Internet methods, educating them about requirements and encouraging them to turn in applications.
The hope is that courts and wiser state legislatures will over time see the perils in limiting citizens’ right to vote. Until then, the best way to counteract these shameless partisan tactics is to look past the obstacles, register to vote and exercise that right in November and in elections afterward.