by E. Sebastian Arduengo
Indiana lawmakers in 2005 enacted an onerous voter ID law, despite the fact that there was no evidence of any voter fraud on any scale in Indiana. Nevertheless the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lawon the grounds that the interest of the state in reducing fraud was greater than the burdens placed on part of the population in obtaining the requisite ID.
Since that ruling several states, most of them controlled by Republican lawmakers, have pushed similarly rigid voter ID laws, among others to create hurdles to voting for minorities, low-income people, the elderly and students. Many of the efforts to make voting an arduous process are predicated on the claim that voter fraud must be stamped out. But the voter fraud claim is not only tired, it’s wobbly.
The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer explores the groups and an attorney who are bent on eradicating voter fraud. Hans von Spakovsky, a Republican lawyer, former Bush administration official and now, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation is the “man who has stoked fear about imposters at the polls,” according to the articles subtitle. As part of the Bush administration, von Spakovsky worked in the Department of Justice’s election division when it cracked down on election fraud, primarily resulting in the sacking of David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney for New Mexico for failing to find any prosecutable voter fraud. Nationwide, the five-year-long investigation only resulted in eighty-six convictions for any election-related crimes.
After the 2008 Election von Spakovsky, worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that used Indiana’s voter ID law as a model for other states to reproduce. In the last two years, Republican lawmakers have introduced voter ID measures in 37 states, and four states have passed laws that require voters to present a photo ID at the polls. Even more insidious are laws that allow “citizen’s groups” to challenge the eligibility of local voters. Mayer’s article also provides a glimpse of what it was like to have your voter eligibility challenged.
After receiving a notice rife with legal prose, Teresa Sharp had to take time out of her day to defend her right to vote:
Sharp told me, “It was like a kangaroo court. There were, like, ninety-four people being challenged, and my family and I were the only ones contesting it! I looked around. The board members and the stenographer, they were all white people. The lady bringing these challenges, she was white, and reminded me of Gladys Kravitz”—the nosy neighbor on the sitcom “Bewitched.”
When Sharp heard her house described as a vacant lot, and learned that Marlene Kocher—the member of the Ohio Voter Integrity Project who had filed the challenge against her—had not bothered to visit her address, she exploded. “This lady has nothing else better to do?” she said. “I think she needs to get a life!”
In the upcoming election, von Spakovsky is looking to take target states where provisional ballots must be cast if voters do not have the requisite documentation when they show up to vote. In those states, groups like the Heritage foundation are already gearing up for litigation about voter eligibility that promises to “make the fights over hanging chads look minor by comparison.” If the past is any indication, these fights will be about issues that are simply not worth taking away someone’s right to vote, like failing to properly fill out forms or failing to provide an oath before providing translation assistance.
Of course, in the world of the Heritage Foundation and like-minded groups, it really makes no difference that voting in the United States is already harderthan it is in most of the developed world. Or that voter fraud is a virtually non-existent crime. Or that people affected by these laws are predominately minorities and the poor, which is why such laws have been struck downin states that need to have changes to election laws survive judicial scrutiny under the Voting Rights Act. In short, the efforts of von Spakovsky represent a scam perpetrated on the American people in the name of protecting the integrity of the voting process. The ironic thing is that the voting process has the most integrity when everyone can participate.