Brooks Cain is a senior from Norman, Oklahoma double majoring in Economics and Human and Organizational Development (with a focus on Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness). He is a part of Vandy Fanatics on campus, where he can put his Vanderbilt fandom to work for the student body. In the future, he hopes to dedicate his life to finding innovative solutions for problems on a national and global scale. When not following politics, you can usually find Brooks at the nearest golf course.
It’s easy to find institutions in politics that are broken. This column strives to do something more difficult: find ways to fix them. Each month, I will tackle a new issue, and in a series of columns, I will lay out possible solutions.
After a long winter break, Mr. Fix It is back. The institution we are examining right now is that of elections. Specifically, this column will deal with the paper tiger of elections in the past decade: voter fraud. In a response to the 2008 ACORN voting fraud and two recent voting right rulings by a conservative-leaning Supreme Court, state legislatures (almost exclusively Republican led) have passed a rash of voter ID laws. 2011 saw 34 states attempt to enact laws requiring a photo ID to vote. On its face, the requirement does not seem too burdensome; after all, nearly everyone has a photo ID, and it’s required to get on a plane, get in a bar, or even use a credit card. According to NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, however, 11 percent of eligible voters do not have a form of photo identification. The problem of voting fraud has been blown way out of proportion. The real fraud is being perpetrated on the American populace. Voter fraud is not a problem, but the reaction to it has caused numerous problems.
Voting fraud simply does not occur that often, and large instances of it rarely go unnoticed. In the state of Florida, more shark attacks occur than cases of voting fraud. Yet, Governor Scott is still trying to purge the voting rolls of illegal voters. The Democratic Party in the state and the NAACP have opposed this on the grounds that it is politically charged. The House Democratic leader in Florida quipped that, “He [Gov. Scott] can probably find more reports of UFOs and space aliens in Florida than there are reports of fraudulent voting in the state.” The lack of voter fraud is not unique to oft-beleaguered Florida. In a 2007 study by the Department of Justice, only 120 charges of voting fraud were filed and 86 people were convicted… in a five-year period. The problem is simply not widespread.
Proportional response has been disregarded in this situation. The reaction to the small amount of voting fraud that occurs has been harsh and unfair. Most egregious of all, the response has been politically motivated. In a recent interview with MSNBC, Attorney General Eric Holder was asked about the voter ID laws. He responded, “…I think many are using it for partisan advantage. The reality is that all of the studies show that this whole question of ballot integrity, in-person voter fraud, simply does not exist to the extent that would warrant these kinds of measures. We had the commission that the president appointed just yesterday and they indicated this was not a significant — not a significant problem. So I think this they have come up with a remedy in search of a problem and I think it is being used in too many instances to depress the vote of particular groups of people who are not supportive of the party that is advancing these photo I.D. measures.”
These laws are being equated to the poll taxes that were prevalent during the Jim Crow era. By requiring a photo ID, the law disproportionately affects low-income, minority, and elderly people. Oftentimes, these groups find it difficult or cumbersome to obtain the documents needed to get a photo ID, or do not have the money to purchase the copies of documents they may need. Not so coincidentally, these three demographic groups often swing to the left. The most striking example of the irresponsibility of these laws comes from the state of Pennsylvania.
Last week, a judge struck down the photo ID requirement after it had been implemented for over a year. This is an important detail. Evidence of how these laws worked was used in the trial, instead of the theoretical musings of policy wonks and amicus briefs. Pennsylvania is a pilot study of how these laws will affect citizens. Judge McGinley stated that the burden of the law did indeed fall on elderly, disabled, and low-income residents of Pennsylvania. Photo IDs were, “…difficult and sometimes impossible to obtain.” When prompted to, the state could not point to one instance of voter fraud that a photo ID requirement would solve. If the legislature was not trying to combat voter fraud with the law, then what were they trying to accomplish? The Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a Republican, provided the answer to that question in a speech to the Republican State Committee in June 2012 soon after the law had passed. When listing off the accomplishments of the Republican legislature, he mentioned gun rights, pro-life legislation and, “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
The motives behind these voter ID laws are clear. Voting fraud is a small stain on the carpet of our elections, and in response, Republican legislatures across the country are trying to remodel the entire house. Fraud is being committed in our electoral system. It is not happening at the polls, though. The real voter fraud is coming from the very people we voted in.
In the next installment, Mr. Fix It will examine the problems with the campaigning process.