voter fraud

  • November 3, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Atiba R. Ellis, Associate Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law. Follow Professor Ellis on Twitter @atibaellis

    The debate over voter identification laws in this election season has shown once again that the voter fraud debate has shaped the right to vote over the last decade.  Recently, voter identification laws in Wisconsin, North Carolina and Texas – passed on the belief that the integrity of elections must be defended against the imminent threat of voters who will impersonate other voters and otherwise commit fraud—has spurred substantial litigation and, most recently, generated a hotly contested denial of a stay of the Texas voter ID law over a scathing dissent from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

    Scholars like Lorraine Minnite, Richard Hasen, Justin Levitt and others, have shown that this voter fraud claim is a myth. Yet, right-leaning pundits like Hans von Spakofsky and Mona Charen have argued that voter fraud will likely occur in the 2014 election. Thus, some pundits, politicians and grassroots organizations like True the Vote see rampant voter fraud as real and looming, despite all research to the contrary.

    This voter fraud claim is often seen as partisan-motivated propaganda or a means perpetuating racial subordination – some call it the return of Jim Crow. Yet, as I argue in an article recently published in the Catholic University Law Review, these claims must be connected to the long saga of voter suppression in the United States. In The Meme of Voter Fraud (also available here), I explain that the voter fraud myth is the latest step in the evolution of the American ideology of exclusion – the belief that “unworthy” citizens should be excluded from the electorate. 

    A meme (an idea based on evolutionary theory) is any idea, belief, concept or behavior that spreads and replicates in the culture. Memes replicate through, among other ways, the sharing of narratives, teaching, or posting on the Internet (think cat videos!). Memes are appealing because they play into a person’s experiences, and on some level people identify with them. This fact prompts a person to share the idea, and the most attractive memes spread virally. As a meme spreads, people often modify it to attract a broader audience.  The new recipients will in turn transform the meme again and replicate it, causing it to evolve (and the changes that fail cause that particular meme to die off). A meme’s appeal and its ability to meet our psychological needs – for instance, for political or social power – causes people to spread memes, not the truth or falsity of the meme.

    People can connect one meme with other memes to develop a complex set of ideas – an ideology – which we use to view the world. And, as scholar J.M. Balkin has observed, ideologies that spur us to action to subjugate the rights of others inevitably result in injustice. Memes can enable power plays, and those most invested in maintaining that power maintain the meme to this end, despite any oppression that might occur.

  • January 11, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Hardly surprising, but another Alabama official is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate an integral provision of the Voting Rights Act. Efforts to suppress the votes of minorities no longer exist, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange argues in a brief lodged with the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear oral argument on Feb. 27 in a case challenging provisions of the landmark civil rights law, including its primary enforcement provision, Section 5.

    The attorney general concedes in his brief that the state still “grapples with race relations issues, but they are the same kind of issues every state currently is endeavoring to solve,” reports Mary Orndorff Troyan for the Montgomery Advertiser.

    Strange’s brief is filed in support of a lawsuit brought by Shelby County, Ala., “a conservative, mostly white county south of Birmingham,” as Troyan describes it. In Shelby County v. Holder, the officials argue that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional because it covers some but not all states. Section 5 requires all or parts of 16 states to obtain “preclearance” of proposed changes to voting procedures from the Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, D.C. Section 5 of the law was intended to ensure that states and localities and with long histories of suppressing the vote of minorities do not create discriminatory voting procedures.

    The NAACP LDF, which has intervened in the case to represent voters, argues that Section 5 remains central to the Voting Rights Act because it works to block discrimination before it occurs. LDF and other civil rights organizations have noted that the Supreme Court has ruled on numerous occasions that Section 5 is constitutional and that in 2006 Congress overwhelmingly reauthorized the Voting Rights Act. Congress, in reauthorizing the law, created a record “consisting of 15,000 pages of evidence” supporting the ongoing need for a strong enforcement provision.

  • December 19, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The 2010 elections highlighted the strident efforts of some state lawmakers to make it much more difficult for people to vote, especially for minorities, low-income people, the elderly and college students. Texas, South Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are among the states that created and tried to implement voting laws requiring strict voter IDs, limiting early voting times and hampering voter registration drives.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee today conducted a hearing on the state of voting rights after the elections and against the backdrop of another challenge to an integral enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Beyond bringing stories of what the new restrictive measures wrought, several witnesses provided passionate defenses of the importance of the landmark civil rights law.

    Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires nine states, many in the South, and counties and other localities across the country to obtain “preclearance” of changes to their voting laws from a federal court in Washington, D.C. or the Department of Justice. The states and localities required to win preclearance are those with long histories of suppressing the vote of minorities. (Shelby County, Ala., officials in a case the Supreme Court will hear this term argue that racial discrimination in voting is a thing of the past and should be invalidated. Like several of the Judiciary Committee witnesses, many argue that Sec. 5 is the heart of the Voting Rights Act and works to block discrimination before it occurs.)

    Five counties in Florida are covered by the Voting Rights Act. Charles Crist, former governor or Florida, testifying today before the Judiciary Committee, said the last few years in the state have not “been so forward thinking.”

  • November 2, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Right up to the final hours of the 2012 general elections some state officials in an array of states will undoubtedly continue their tiresome efforts to discourage and turn away from the polls potential voters.

    Just today, as reported by The Miami Herald, Fla. Gov. Rick Scott (R), is rebuffing requests from the League of Women Voters of Florida and other civil liberties groups to extend early voting hours there, citing the long lines at early voting sites. The newspaper notes that since the start of early voting in Broward County alone has “averaged more than 28,400 voters a day. Miami-Dade averaged more than 26, 300.”

    The League of Women Voters of Florida, among others, asked Scott (pictured) to extend early voting to include Sunday, Nov. 4. But “top Republican officials,” told the newspaper that no extension is needed. Gov. Scott enacted a voting overhaul law in 2011 greatly reducing the number of early voting days, including the Sunday before Election Day. That law also included measures limiting voter registration drives and an onerous Voter ID law. Groups, such as the League of Women Voters, the Brennan Center, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and the ACLU have had success through litigation in blunting or blocking some of the law’s measures.

    Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel that the long waits “are discouraging to voters whose schedules and or physical conditions cannot accommodate these types of delays.”

    Rightwing groups and pundits have advocated for such limitations on voting, claiming that voter fraud mars the nation’s elections. As pointed on out on this blog numerous times and by many others, see Jane Mayer’s recent New Yorker piece, in-person voter fraud is essentially myth. A recent “state-by-state map” by Nick McClellan, for Slate, reveals that there is very little evidence of voter fraud.

  • October 9, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The efforts by Republican controlled statehouses to create more hurdles to voting, such as limiting early voting, creating onerous voter identification requirements, and making it more difficult to conduct voter registration drives, are hardly a recent trend.

    Victoria Bassetti, author of Electoral Dysfunction: A Survival Manual for American Voters, argues in numerous articles that for a country that prides itself on its form of democracy the burdens on voting do not make good public policy nor provide a solid foundation for a healthy democracy. (This month PBS will air an “Electoral Dysfunction” documentary; the book is a companion piece to the documentary.)

    In a piece for The Washington Post, Bassetti says our system of voting is “mystifying” to other countries, largely because of the burdens we place on voting.

    “In the United States, we put the burden on the voter,” she writes. “And in doing so, we keep company with nations such as the Bahamas, Belize and Burundi.”

    While maintaining that very few would label voter registration “anti-democratic,” she notes that “many political and social scientists believe that our country’s practice of putting the registration burden on individuals, coupled with outmoded, paper-intense registration systems, are major causes of the United States’ perennially low voter turnout. One study estimated that voter registration barriers in the United States depress turnout by 5 to 10 percent.”

    In an Oct. 6 column for The New York Times, Bassetti explores how low turnout “produces poor representation, which produces laws people are disinclined to obey and so undermine the process.” She also mentions a rather interesting study regarding how difficult it can be for men to vote, especially if their candidates lose. The study, produced by scientists at Duke and University of Michigan, has something to do with testosterone levels in men and people with normal serotonin levels. (Simply or crudely put, voting can be tough on men because of testosterone reactions and people with weak serotonin systems.)

    Though interesting, Bassetti says such studies are not especially helpful to handling “complex issues facing our democracy.”

    Some of that complexity centers on the bureaucratic mess voting has become in many states.