Fear Tactics Used to Promote Voter Suppression in 2011

This week, newly elected Republicans took office in several states, many of whom have big plans for the future of voting rights. Unfortunately, as we blogged and reported last month, these changes have little to do with actually assessing and improving state of elections. In fact, many of these officials used anti-immigration and voter fraud fear tactics to win their seats, and now are threatening to restrict access to the ballot via legislation or state ballot before 2012 elections.

Secretary of State-elect Kris Kobach–with the support of Kansas Governor-elect Sam Brownback–made campaign promises to seek regressive voting laws in order to prevent voter fraud. The effort includes a photo voter ID requirement and proof-of-citizenship

law that mimics Arizona’s onerous and now defunct mandate for registrants to submit documentary proof of citizenship (a measure that had disenfranchised more than 30,000 eligible Arizonans).

Kobach is no stranger to controversial and divisive legislation: according to the Associated Press, he “helped write this year’s law in Arizona empowering police to question anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally, a policy some Kansas lawmakers hope to enact in their state.”

In response to his election law plan, a coalition of voting rights groups joined forces this week to oppose Kobach’s efforts to require voters to show photo ID, noting that voter fraud is not an issue in the state where only one case of voter fraud was successfully prosecuted out of 10 million votes cast in the span of six years, according to a Lawrence Journal-World report.

“You statistically have a better chance of being stricken twice by lightning than of encountering a genuine act of voter fraud in Kansas,” the coalition, which includes state chapters of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters, stated.

“But despite Republican alarmism over rigged elections, voter-ID laws are a solution in search of a problem,” wrote Tova Andrea Wang of nonpartisan research and advocacy organization, Demos, in an American Prospect report. Wang cited Project Vote’s report, The Politics of Voter Fraudwhich found “only 24 people were convicted of or pleaded guilty to illegal voting [in federal elections] between 2002 and 2005, adding that voter ID laws “address an exceedingly rare type of vote fraud, cost the state money that could be used to address more pressing issues in a time of economic crisis, and serve primarily to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters — just so politicians can influence who votes in the next election.”

And if the rarity of the crime and economic burden on the state isn’t enough to make citizens question elected officials’ quest for strict photo ID, consider this: “Voter-ID laws do, however, serve to disenfranchise many voters — primarily people of color, young people, senior citizens, and people with disabilities,” Wang continues. “Among Americans over the age of 65, 18 percent do not have a photo ID. Fully a quarter of African Americans and 15 percent of low-income voters also don’t carry ID. For members of these groups, who tend to have low voter-registration levels anyway, getting an ID becomes just another hurdle to voting — in some cases the virtually insurmountable one of paying what amounts to a poll tax.”

Despite being the equivalent of a poll tax, the misinformation on voter fraud and the alleged need for voter ID policies continues to plague the country.

In Mississippi, voters will take up the voter ID debate on November 8, thanks to an initiative brought by longtime voter ID proponent, Secretary of state Delbert Hosemann.

According to WLBT, Republican state senator Joey Fillingane said ‘there’s still voter fraud going on in 2011 now and that ought not to be,” inaccurately adding that “I think we’re one of only seven states that doesn’t have some kind of photo i.d. requirement so we’re way behind the eight ball on this.”

In reality, only 10 states actually require photo ID from all voters, exceeding the federal Help America Vote Act provision that requests ID from all new voters who registered to vote by mail. Mississippi is one of 22 states to adhere to the federal mandate. The other 28 states request or require additional forms from all voters, including the 10 that specifically require photo ID.

The voter fraud scare message resonates in Wisconsin, even among its 600,000 disabled citizens who are simultaneously concerned with being disenfranchised by a proposed photo ID law and the possibilities of voter fraud, according to a Public News Service report.

“Where a photo I.D. law becomes problematic is when it becomes a barrier for individuals with disabilities to be able to get out and vote,” said Alicia Boehme of the advocacy group, Disability Rights Wisconsin. “It is much harder for those individuals to get out and get a photo identification card. We want to work with legislators to try and ensure that the bill takes that into account.”

Newly elected state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald promised that “a Voter I.D. act will be the first bill introduced in the 2011 legislative session,” which starts next week.

“Boehme says alternative solutions could be adapted, such as stricter penalties for voter fraud and accepting alternate forms of I.D. documentation and proof of residence,” though as outlined previously, HAVA already requires certain voters to present alternate forms of ID and rare voter fraud is already penalized in most states. So, why waste the legislative time and energy, not to mention state funds on issues that are already prohibited or enforced?

“A far better way to improve our elections would be to commit the money it would cost to implement an ID law to positive reform,” wrote Joyce McCollum, president of the League of Women Voters of Greater Green Bay, in a Green Bay Press Gazette column. “With many recent changes to national and state election law, the best way to improve elections is to improve the training of local clerks and poll workers.”

McCollum noted a 2010 pilot project to “train and place election observers at the polls for the November election” and document irregularities in the voting process. Most problems, she said, related to poll worker confusion, ill equipped polling places, and other administrative details. “The League’s findings were similar to those reported by other observers, including some who in the past have alleged widespread illegal voting in our state. There were no reports by the observers or in the media of voter impersonation or fraud.”

We have heard, time and time again, the arguments that voter ID amounts to a poll tax that disenfranchises marginalized communities and puts a financial burden on the state while preventing an exceedingly rare crime. Instead of continuing to debate a policy that has been widely discredited, we should instead be questioning the elected officials who devoutly support such convoluted measures: “Why is it so important to you, and what are you really trying to accomplish?”

Tags: election reform, kansas, state legislatures, legislation, voter id, Voter Disenfranchisement, Mississippi, Wisconsin (all tags)

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