Friday, June 22, 2012

My View: Tough to stop voter fraud when there is very little

June 21, 2012
By Tom Maertens
Mankato Free Press

According to the Washington Post, 34 state legislatures introduced voter ID bills last year, including Minnesota.

Does this mean that there is suddenly an epidemic of fraudulent voting?

A major probe by the Bush Justice Department between 2002 and 2007 failed to prosecute a single person for impersonating an eligible voter, which the voter ID laws are supposedly designed to prevent.

There were 300 million votes cast in that period, yet federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for vote fraud — mostly involving immigrants and former felons who were unaware of their ineligibility to vote.

An investigation in Wisconsin led to the prosecution of only .0007 percent of the local electorate for alleged voter fraud.

When the Supreme Court took up Indiana’s voter ID law, they could only identify one instance of in-person voter fraud in the last 143 years, according to the ACLU.

As a 2007 report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University put it, “It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.” Indeed, between 2000 and 2007, there were 352 deaths caused by lightning in the United States, but only nine cases of voter impersonation, according to Craiglist founder Craig Newmark.

In February, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota challenged the fraud allegations by offering $1,000 to anyone who could produce evidence of a voter impersonation conviction that would have been prevented by Minnesota’s proposed constitutional amendment. The ACLU-MN announced in April that it did not receive any evidence that met these criteria.

Steve Benen of Maddow Blog reported that when Texas went looking for examples of voter impersonation, it found fewer than five incidents of vote fraud out of more than 13 million votes cast in the 2008 and 2010 elections. “Real examples of fraud are incredibly rare,” he concluded.

That’s because both federal and state laws include stiff fines and imprisonment for voter fraud. Under federal law, perpetrators face up to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000 for each act of fraud. State laws vary, but voter fraud is punishable by prison and fines in virtually every state. That is a high price to pay for the very marginal benefit of repeat voting.

In Minnesota, the Minnesota Voters Alliance has alleged thousands of cases of “voter fraud,” implying the need for IDs to prevent voter impersonation. They claim false IDs are a problem and conflate that allegation with the nationwide problem of approximately 5.3 million Americans with felony convictions who are ineligible to vote, and frequently are unaware of this.

This is a classic red herring by a shadowy group supported by anonymous donors.

In reality, the 100-plus “fraud” cases MVA cites are virtually all instances where convicted felons voted illegally. Voter IDs won’t prevent felons from voting.

MVA and similar front groups claim that because people need to show IDs to board an airplane, they should have to present an ID to vote.

This is a false analogy; the airplane ID is because terrorists have hijacked and blown up planes; they haven’t blown up any polling places.

The ACLU of Minnesota filed a complaint against Minnesota Voters Alliance for raising money without registering as a charitable organization, allowing it to conceal its donors and board members. This is more than a little ironic for an organization that claims to be protesting illegal activity by others.

What MVA and the voter ID movement represents is really a nationwide campaign by Republicans to reduce the number of potential Democratic voters.

According to the New York Times, more than 21 million citizens — 11 percent of the population — do not have government ID cards including 18 percent of young voters and 25 percent of African-Americans.

The Brennan Center estimates that up to 5 million people could be disenfranchised — overwhelmingly the poor, elderly, minorities, recent immigrants and young people. Not coincidentally, these groups tend to vote Democratic.

The voter ID legislation introduced in virtually every state legislature that Republicans control, was produced by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is kept afloat largely by the billionaire Koch brothers and their corporate allies.

The same Republican state legislators have introduced restrictions on early voting and absentee voting, imposed onerous residency requirements, required proof of citizenship, limited or eliminated same-day registration, made it harder for minor felons to regain their right to vote, and restricted voter registration drives.

This campaign is not about voter impersonation. It’s about suppressing the vote.

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