Submitting voter registration forms under the names of dead people. Imposing strict requirements for photo ID to vote. Circulating the wrong voting date in minority communities. Intimidating would-be voters with threats of jail time posted on highway billboards.
No, these aren’t the practices of an autocratic regime in the Middle East, a fledgling democracy in Africa, or a desperate dictator in South America. These are just some of the tactics being used by our own national political parties to both scare up and scare away the votes. It’s like all those civics lessons we proudly learned in middle school, except exactly the opposite.
Kind of makes you want to to gouge your eyes out with a flag pin.
Even the most casual of news observers is aware that there is a presidential election on the horizon, and that the race is very, very tight. Many also know that something about the entire race stinks.
It’s the stink of cheating, the rot of blind partisanship and the unholy foulness of discrimination.
Before 2006, you could vote in all 50 states simply by establishing your identity and your residency by presenting any number of documents. In 2006, Indiana became the first state to enforce strict, government-issued photo ID laws: No photo ID, no vote. Today, 30 states have some form of voter ID laws in effect.
The purpose of voter ID laws is to ensure that the registered voter is the one doing the voting, and not some impersonator. Makes sense, right? I mean, there are safeguards against that type of impersonation during college exams.
The trouble is, voter ID laws disproportionately affect the elderly, minorities, and low-income groups, including voting-age students. That’s because they might not have $25 to get a copy of a birth certificate, say, or even the means to get to an ID-generating office. All told, about 11% of voting-age citizens in this country lack the necessary identification to vote.
What’s more, there’s very little evidence, anywhere, that voter fraud is a legitimate problem. But tune in to any segment of political punditry, and you’ll hear about voter ID laws. Why all the fuss?
The fuss exists because some dudes with money, connections, and skin in the game have decided to make one.
All but one of the states that passed voter ID legislation did so under a Republican majority. The voter fraud myth, you see, has been ginned up by the party that’s afraid all those old people, minorities, and lower-income folks will be voting for the Democratic candidate. It’s Mitt Romney’s 47% principle in action.
So men like Hans von Spakovsky are leading conservative watchdog groups that flag “suspicious” households and summon residents for hearings where they have to “prove” they’re “qualified voters.” And men like Nathan Sproul, a Republican operative who runs Strategic Allied Consulting, oversees “registration drives” in five states on behalf of the GOP…until law enforcement intervenes after spotting rampant irregularities in the registrations SAC was submitting. Then men like Colin Small, a former employee of Mr. Sproul’s, are actually caught dumping voter registration forms in the trash in Virginia.
There are two sides to every story, of course. There have been reports of anonymous groups telling Republican voters their registration credentials are being questioned. And no one can definitively say how many people refrain from voting because they’re unable to present photo ID. What’s more, falsified voter registrations don’t measurably translate into fake votes being cast on election day.
But just because a mess doesn’t do much more than stink, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be cleaned up. This is America. If there’s one thing we’re supposed to do right, it’s vote.
So let’s do this, ladies. Let’s tell those Lance Armstrongs of the political world to enjoy competing in the next season of Survivor. Let’s tell those party chiefs who shell out millions of dollars to hire “consultants” to do registration drives and lobbyists to draft legislation that their their money can instead go to places like schools and food pantries and small businesses who might hire someone someday. That we’ll take it from here.
Then let’s make a law. We’ll call it the Common Sense in Elections Act. (C-Sea, for short. Because New Girl resonates everywhere.) Under C-Sea, only 501(c)(3) non-profits will be allowed to run registration drives. Those groups are necessarily nonpartisan; as soon as they verge into partisanship, they lose their tax-exempt status.
Next, we’ll tell the states that have passed or want to pass voter ID laws that they can have their photo ID requirements. But as soon as Dick or Jane signs an affidavit saying he or she cannot afford any fee associated with getting that photo ID, the state has to foot the bill. Let’s see how the hand-wringing deficit hawks like them apples.
Finally, let’s throw on some yoga pants or a skirt suit or some jeans (yes, you need to be dressed). And let’s cast OUR vote.
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