© Josh Sager – October 2014
Before virtually every modern election, the right wing has talked about the serious “problem of voter fraud” that threatens to distort the election results—wherever possible, they have backed up this talk with legislation aimed at “preventing voter impersonation or voter fraud at the polls.”
According to all objective statistics, and even admissions by some right wing activists while under oath, in person voter fraud is a minuscule issue in the United States. To put the scale of the problem into perspective: a study by Loyola Law School’s Justin Levitt found 31 cases of in-person voter fraud in a poll of approximately 1 billion votes, starting in 2000—that is a fraud rate that amounts to a fraction of a percent of a rounding error.
Despite the lack of credible evidence that voter fraud is a problem (and large body of evidence that there is no problem), the right wing has passed dozens of laws restricting voting rights and making it harder for certain people to vote.
…and this progress towards more restrictive voting laws only continued this year, after the Supreme Court decided to cripple the Voting Rights Act.
Unfortunately, in reality, this obsession with voter fraud is simply an excuse by the right wing to pass legislation that disenfranchises voter demographics that aren’t statistically likely to vote Republican:
- By passing voter identification laws that require types of identification not held by the poor (ex. driver’s licenses) or people in liberal demographics (ex. Texas explicitly bans state university IDs from being used to prove residency, but allows gun permits), the right wing cuts down on the ability of unfriendly demographics to vote.
- By doing voter purges, right wing governors are able to strike people from the voting rolls unless they are able to contact the state in time in order to get their rights restored. Because they target these purges by race (ex. Florida purging people with traditionally Latino names)
- By eliminating early voting periods, the Republicans are able to disenfranchise poor voters (they cannot leave work on voting day) and disrupt the “souls to the polls” voting program run by many traditionally black churches.
While it is difficult to accurately assess the harm from these laws, it is inarguable that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans have been dissuaded from voting or outright blocked from exercising their rights (in Pennsylvania alone, the 2012 voter ID law was estimated to disenfranchise over 500,000 voters were it not blocked).
My assertion that this disenfranchisement is intentional is backed up by numerous admissions by right wing activists and politicians who accidentally reveal the true purpose of their voting laws while there are cameras watching. For example, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai said the following about his legislative record while running the PA House: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”
Weighing Fraud and Disenfranchisement
Equal access to voting is a right in this country and a voter unfairly denied the right to vote causes the exact same harm that a case of a person voting twice does—both unfairly shift the vote total by one vote away from the true choices of the American people.
In a way, the voter totals are similar to an absolute value problem.
If we consider the Zero point to be the fair results of an election (everybody who is legally allowed to vote and wants to does so, while there is no voter fraud), then any deviation from this point represents an equal level of distortion, regardless of whether it subtracts or adds votes.
When the right wing passes voter disenfranchisement laws, they are distorting the vote by hundreds of thousands of votes every election cycle, yet they are responding to a problem that even they admit happens in a miniscule number of cases. In effect, they are perpetrating voting fraud on a massive scale, while using the non-factual justification of fighting voter fraud as a thin cover.