Friday, October 17, 2008

Voter Fraud Facts, Fiction, Fury and Foolishnes.

As the campaign pulls into the closing stretch over the next couple weeks, expect to hear more and more and more from the right wing about how evil ACORN is, and how they are aiming to destroy democracy. John McCain lashed out hard against the group in Wednesday night's debate, and Sarah Palin has been whipping up the base with vaguely stated charges out on the campaign trail for weeks, not only accusing the group of organized fraud, but also Obama of collusion with these supposed efforts.

Meanwhile, in some states early voting has already begun, and reports are trickling in of actual attempts at voter fraud by supporters of the GOP ticket. Read one or two of these accounts on Andrew Sullivan's blog to get a feel for what I mean.

Also, whether informally or through some formal effort, emails have circulated in the past few months about voters being turned away from polling places if they wear anything showing support for a particular candidate. The validity of this rumor varies from state to state, so through a link off a page on the subject I found an article that documents extensive research on the various state laws. This article says, among other things:
1. Laws in 10 states prohibit the “wearing” of a political message button

Ten States -- Delaware, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont -- prohibit a voter from “wearing” to the polls the same type of political message button that I wore on Election day. State laws describe this type of political message/campaign button in language such as “badge, “lapel,” “button,” or “pin” (all hereinafter “button”). It is important to note that in Tennessee, the state that enacted a “campaign-free zone” law that was challenged in the Supreme Court,18 the statute explicitly notes that a person may wear campaign clothing only outside the legally appropriate polling place boundary...

2. Laws in 40 states and the District of Columbia prohibit campaign activities in and around the polls in other ways

Each of the other forty states and the District of Columbia also regulate activities in and around its polling places on election day. These laws are designed to preclude voter intimidation and reduce the opportunity for fraud. A group of states make it unlawful to “display” or “exhibit” campaign material (sometimes enforced against voters wearing buttons, t-shirts or hats) in and around polls. Several states ban “electioneering” in polling places (the definitions of the activities that constitute electioneering vary from state to state). The majority of states prohibit a person from “posting” or “distributing” campaign literature and materials around the polling area. Several states simply regulate campaigning near polls through anti-loitering statutes. All these statutes intend to prevent active, disruptive campaigning as voters cast their ballots.
Advice: if you have questions about what is permissable in your state, find information on contacting your state elections board here, and consider sending around the proper information far and wide once you have it.

So now you've got some context, but where's the story and what's really going on? The reality of the ACORN situation is that unfortunately some shady action is in fact happening. One of the things ACORN does is to pay workers who canvas, often in low-income communities, looking to register voters. These workers are often paid based on how many folks they register so it should come as little surprise to people that here or there one of these workers forges a name or 70, simply trying to pad their check by upping their numbers.

Should the fact that this is unsurprising make anyone feel like it's less disturbing? No, not really. However, what should is that every single state in the U.S. has systems to check voter registrations and weed out faulty ones along the way. ACORN is not collecting votes, merely registering people to vote, and the thinness of this GOP scare tactic is illustrated even more clearly when you look at an interview former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias recently did with Talking Points Memo. Iglesias was dismissed by the Department of Justice after he refused to chase after voter fraud claims in certain cases where he felt the investigations of said fraud showed little evidence worthy of prosecution. Discussing this latest controversy over ACORN, Iglesias said:
"I'm astounded that this issue is being trotted out again," Iglesias told TPMmuckraker. "Based on what I saw in 2004 and 2006, it's a scare tactic." ...

Iglesias, who has been the most outspoken of the fired U.S. attorneys, went on to say that the FBI's investigation seemed designed to inappropriately create a "boogeyman" out of voter fraud.

And he added that it "stands to reason" that the investigation was launched in response to GOP complaints...

As we noted earlier... changes made to DOJ's election crimes manual, lowered the bar for voter-fraud prosecutions, and made it easier to bring vote-fraud cases close to the election... Speaking today to TPMmuckraker, Iglesias called such changes "extremely problematic."
So... what is any of this worth? Well, if the current polls hold true and even if the race tightens a bit over the next few weeks, it looks like Obama may win a decisive enough victory that claims around voter fraud, etc. will matter very little in the larger picture. If, however, something happens over the next little bit and the results on November 5th look closer that we now expect, don't be surprised if these shrill shrieks about ACORN become even louder, and potentially a more divisive wedge pounded into the American electorate.

I, for one, hope that this issue becomes the non-issue I predict it could be simply because I think a lot of the hoopla about fraud focuses on fictitious and trumped up claims that provide a cover for more pernicious goals (namely continuing the existing disenfranchisement of low-income and minority voters to the benefit of those parties whose policies ultimately hurt these same populations).

That said, could we use cleaner, easier, more straightforward systems for both signing up to vote, and for the government to ensure the integrity of our votes? Yes, I am, and I think we can all be in favor of that idea.

Until better systems are achieved, I will keep my fingers crossed, and I would suggest that it might just be wise to consider leaving your candidate pin in the car when you go into the polling place November 4th. I would hate to see anyone turned away from voting in such an important election for any reason at all.

1 comment:

Matt said...

This is unrelated, but you might want to bump the Colin Powell story!