By Mike Appleton, Guest Blogger
If someday it should happen that a victim must be found
I’ve got a little list, I’ve got a little list
of society offenders who might well be underground,
who never would be missed, who never would be missed.
W.S. Gilbert, The Mikado
The current legal battle between Florida governor Rick Scott and the Justice Department over the purging of voter rolls is only one of many examples of efforts undertaken in recent years to tighten registration requirements and restrict voting eligibility. The 2011 Florida legislative session produced no fewer than 80 amendments to election laws, including mandatory photo identification, the reduction of early voting from two weeks to one and a 48 hour deadline for submission of completed forms by voter registration groups. Gov. Scott also reversed his Republican predecessor’s efforts to simplify restoration of civil rights for persons convicted of non-violent felonies by imposing an arbitrary five year waiting period following completion of a convict’s sentence.
The professed purpose of these efforts is to protect the sanctity of the voting booth. A U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee report published in 2005 warned that “voter fraud continues to plague our nation’s federal elections, diluting and cancelling out the lawful votes of the vast majority of Americans.” The report cited no studies or statistical evidence to support such a terrifying conclusion, but no matter. Gov. Scott insists that his motives are pure, that he is driven solely by a desire to preserve the integrity of the electoral process. And what fair-minded person can argue with that?
But no political leader has ever acknowledged less than noble objectives. Therefore, it is always necessary to go behind the public statements. How serious a problem is voter fraud? What are the opinions of rank and file members of the constituencies pushing for new laws? When the governor’s actions are examined under these lenses, the conclusion is inescapable that the overriding concern is not electoral, but political.
Of course, the claim of massive voter fraud has already been thoroughly debunked. During the Bush administration, then Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales announced that the Justice Department had made the prosecution of election fraud a “top priority.” Yet there were only 24 federal convictions or guilty pleas involving illegal voting between 2002 and 2005. When Indiana enacted one of the nation’s first voter ID laws in 2005, it was revealed that there had not been a single instance of voter impersonation in the entire history of the state. The Brennan Center for Justice has conducted a number of studies, but finds that voter fraud is “more rare than death by lightning.” And in The Politics of Voter Fraud, a study published by Project Vote, Prof. Lorraine Minnite concluded that the rare instances of alleged fraud cited by state governments frequently involve nothing more than simple mistakes or voter confusion.
But if actual voter fraud seldom occurs, the impetus for the flood of legislation must have another source. A sampling of public statements by lower level office holders and Republican activists is particularly enlightening. During the debate over the proposed revisions to the Florida election code, for example, the president pro tem of the senate, Michael Bennett, stated that voting “is a hard fought privilege. This is something people died for. Why should we make it easier?” Since voting is in fact a right, perhaps Sen. Bennett was confusing voter registration with obtaining a driver’s license.
Jordan Phillips, president of the Tea Party Nation, would likely disagree with the view that a willingness to die for one’s country confers sufficient standing to merit the right to vote. “If you’re not a property owner,” he says, “I’m sorry but property owners have a little more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners.” Mr. Phillips resides in Tennessee, the “monkey bill” state. He may well propose at some point that evolutionists be barred from voting.
The Republican mayor of Arlington, Tennessee, Russell Wiseman, agrees with Mr. Phillips. “Our forefathers had it written in the original Constitution that only property owners could vote. If it had stayed there, things would be different . . . .” Mayor Wiseman must have consulted a no longer extant draft of the Constitution. The version actually adopted does not address the right to vote at all. In fairness, many of the Founders held quite narrow views on suffrage. John Adams, for example, firmly believed that only men of financial substance possessed the necessary independence to wisely conduct the affairs of government. But he was reflecting the attitudes of his time, over two hundred years and a number of constitutional amendments ago.
Rep. William O’Brien, the Republican speaker of the New Hampshire House, unsuccessfully pushed a bill last year that would have prevented same-day registration and forbidden college students from using their school addresses. His objective was to stop “kids coming out of the schools and basically doing what I did when I was a kid, which is voting as a liberal.” His slap at the Twenty-Sixth Amendment has been followed in South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee, whose laws (inspired by ALEC model legislation) prohibit students from using college-issued photo IDs for voting purposes.
When she was seeking Justice Department approval of Georgia’s voter ID law in 2005, state Rep. Sue Burmeister responded to charges that the law would disenfranchise blacks disproportionately by claiming that that effect would actually promote the aims of the law because fewer black voters would reduce the opportunities for fraud and vote buying.
Conservative columnist Matthew Vadum is equally blunt in his assessment of the need to limit voting by certain social groups, which he labels the “nonproductive segments of the population.” “Encouraging those who burden society to participate in elections isn’t about helping the poor. It’s about helping the poor to help themselves to others’ money.”
And as for that argument that those who have paid in full the debt exacted by society for the commission of crimes should be re-admitted to the body politic, the response comes from Marty Connors, who as chairman of the Alabama Republican Party in 2003, opposed legislation that would have facilitated restoration of civil rights to ex-convicts because “felons don’t tend to vote Republican.”
And there you have it. Like Sarah Palin’s “death panels” and Michele Bachmann’s “reeducation camps,’ the phrase “voter fraud” is a not-so-secret code. It is a euphemism for excluding students, blacks, the poor and ex-felons from the voting booth. And judging from the verified results of his purging efforts to date, Gov. Scott’s “list” appears to be nothing more than a ham-handed effort to extend the euphemism to include Hispanics.