By Stanley Kutler
Across the land, Republican state legislators have shouted “voter fraud, voter fraud” to justify various schemes to restrict voting. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is now leading the charge, which makes sense since the phony fraud redounds to his benefit.
Legislative actions, written by the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, are intended to hamper African-American and Latino voting. Legislators have all but said that they can still smell the Rio Grande on new voters. But they “cry wolf” and have created a public understanding that in no way reflects reality. As is well known by those who’ve bothered to investigate, voting restrictions are the true fraud.
The disputed Bush-Gore election of 2000 galvanized Republicans, keenly aware how America’s unfolding demographics threatened to make them a permanent minority national party, overwhelmed by emergent, enlarging blocs of ethnic voters long antagonized by the GOP. Since then, we have been victimized by carefully calibrated public relations campaigns alleging that loyal, upstanding, law-abiding Americans are being negated by voter corruption. It is not true.
Make no mistake: This is a Republican, corporate-funded effort to exclude American citizens from the voting process. Fifty years ago, we battled to expand the American electorate to include those deliberately excluded; today’s battles are intended to reverse that achievement. Richard Nixon, a man with sharp political antennae, enthusiastically endorsed voting by 18-year-olds, seeing the potential for Republican support. It may be hard to believe, but Nixon once was a young man very much attracted to the then-progressive wing of the Republican Party. His insight proved prophetic when young voters flocked to Ronald Reagan.
The Republican legislatures and governors so concerned with voter ID restrictions were themselves elected by “the people.” Were their victorious elections tainted or corrupted with voter fraud? Of course not. Their unstated goal was to prevent Barack Obama’s re-election and overcome the abomination of his 2008 and 2012 victories. Now they have launched a determined effort to maintain the power of their basic white constituency.
Most recently, presidential wannabe Walker announced that he and his dutiful Republican legislative majority will act by the next election—meaning his own. He calls voter ID the most “pressing” election issue in Wisconsin, and he wants the “proper requirements in place” before November. In the meantime, he promised to monitor pending cases in state and federal courts to determine whether legislation was needed to “address any concerns” that the courts might have. More than concerns, Walker and his allies indicated that the legislature would override any adverse court decision against the restrictions.
The assault against voting rights comes in various forms. For now, Walker is pleased that the legislature restricted early and absentee balloting after 7 p.m. or on weekends. The legislature certainly is creative with its rationalizations. One senator contended that rural election clerks lacked staff for too many hours of early voting, thus giving an advantage to large municipalities. “We are not restricting anyone’s voting,” he contended, cynically disregarding the comparative sizes of cities. But the real question is why the state has an interest in denying access to voting other than to disenfranchise some people.
ALEC, heavily funded by the Koch brothers and like-minded conservative allies, has designed legislation to restrict voting, and circulated its draft bills around the nation, which its members, essentially well-financed Republican state legislators, eagerly adopt as their own. Republicans are blatantly trying to limit the electorate and rig elections. They have actively, enthusiastically launched the fray with an unrestrained prattle of fraud.
Paul Weyrich, a leader of numerous conservative causes and a founder of ALEC, minced no words more than 30 years ago: “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
Weyrich and his clients would not rely on voter apathy, indifference or ignorance to ensure low turnout. Enter the handle of “voter fraud” to justify legislation to prevent the “unwashed” from voting. Ideologically driven mandates have little affinity for the truth. Voter ID laws are reminiscent of legislation enacted in the late 19th century by elites increasingly concerned by the emergence of new voters. Read working-class immigrants from Eastern or Southern Europe, different in language, religion and class from most Americans. At the same time, Southern states enacted Jim Crow laws that denied suffrage to former slaves, who, under the terms of the 14th Amendment, nevertheless were citizens of the United States. The nation remained largely white, rural and Protestant for another half century.
The 1960s witnessed a surge of new laws expanding access to suffrage. After a century of neglect, the 1965 Voting Rights Act fulfilled the promise of the “right to vote” in the Reconstruction Era’s 15th Amendment. Registration laws restricting voting fell by the wayside. Many states allowed registration on Election Day, and 18-year-olds secured the right to vote with the passage of the 26th Amendment. Consensus came easily as the ratification process required less than four months.
By the 1990s states generally expanded voting and absentee balloting, and again consensus prevailed with bipartisan support. But the Republican Party, aided and abetted by the money and influence of the Koch brothers and Karl Rove’s advocacy organization, now openly opposes and seeks to reverse nearly four decades of broadening and improving access for the electorate.
In the 2004 presidential election only five states had a photo ID law, but in each voters could sign an affidavit at the polls attesting to their eligibility. Two years later, Indiana enacted a “strict” photo ID law, requiring voters to present a photo ID without exception. A number of states fell into line and in 2013, six passed strict laws, bringing to 19 the number of states with photo ID laws, 11 of them being strict. Unquestionably, plentiful evidence demonstrates that the laws have burdened the poor, the elderly, the disabled, ethnic and racial minorities, and people often without the financial or physical resources to cope. People without cars typically don’t have driver’s licenses. While states often will provide free birth certificates, many people have no idea where to find them. A recent study found that 6 percent of whites do not have a photo ID, but for African-Americans, the rate is 25 percent. The study also found 16 percent of Latinos, 18 percent of the elderly and 18 percent of young people, 18–24, similarly had no photo ID. Finally, lower-income people were at a 50 percent rate. (See the policy paper by Catherine M. Flanagan and Estelle H. Rogers, “Photo ID Laws.”)
Challenges against the new voting laws have erupted in virtually every state, and in numerous federal courts. In 2008, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of an Indiana law requiring a photo ID. But five years later, Judge Richard Posner, who wrote the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding that law, recanted, arguing that the Indiana measure was “a type of law now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention.” Posner noted, “One wasn’t alert to this kind of trickery, even though it’s age old in the democratic process.” Quite a reversal by so prominent a jurist.
Posner went on to believe that judges simply did not have enough facts at their disposal. They had no indications that “requiring additional voter identification would actually disenfranchise people entitled to vote.” He credited his dissenting colleague, Judge Terence T. Evans, with being absolutely right. At the outset of his opinion, Evans said, “Let’s not beat around the bush: The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic.” There is every possibility that Posner will get another bite of the apple if and when there is an appeal from a now-pending lower court case in his jurisdiction.
The Republicans’ professed motivation to eliminate voter fraud has been unmasked as totally empty in virtually every case. The leading scholarly study by Lorraine C. Minnite, “The Business of Voter Fraud” (2010) concludes voter fraud allegations are “unsupported by evidence” and have “no basis in fact.” The Wisconsin legislature had focused attention on in-person voter impersonation fraud, but Minnite found only one such case where a husband voted on his wife’s absentee ballot after she died. Minnite concluded that other types of voter fraud were so rare that their incidence is “statistically zero.”
A stopped clock is right twice a day. Alas! There is voter fraud in Wisconsin, but not from African-American or Hispanic voters—and Democrats are in no way involved. A GOP operative, Marcie R. Malszycki, a legislative aide to state Rep. Warren Petryk, a Republican from west central Wisconsin, has been charged with two counts of election fraud for allegedly voting in Petryk’s district while she is a homeowner in Madison. The felony charge carries a possible sentence of up to three and a half years of a combined prison term and extended supervision. The alleged fraud is said to have occurred in 2008 and 2010, while she was on unpaid leave from her legislative job to work on political campaigns. Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board has said that under state law a person who moves for a temporary purpose is not eligible to vote in his or her temporary domicile.
Malszycki’s guilt is apparent, but the district attorney decided to let her off easily, dismissing one count and allowing for “deferred prosecution” on the other. In days of unbounded social media, Malszycki posted her votes in her temporary home on her Facebook page. At least she cannot invoke the Fifth Amendment to plead her right to refuse self-incrimination. “Voter fraud” is alive and well in Wisconsin, ironically committed by a Republican.