The Romney campaign’s general counsel recently beseeched Ken Cuccinelli—Virginia’s Republican attorney general and 2013 gubernatorial candidate—to investigate the Voter Participation Center, a D.C.-based organization with the stated purpose of increasing election awareness and participation.
According to the campaign’s interpretation of a Richmond Times-Dispatch story, the nonprofit was supposedly caught red-handed “inducing voter registration fraud” by attempting to register animals and dead people for the upcoming election.
However, the facts of the situation reveal that democracy may not be under mortal threat—at least not from the Voter Participation Center, at any rate.
Among the organization’s methods for accomplishing its mission is the practice of mailing out pre-printed voter registration forms. The information used to populate these forms comes from various commercially available mailing lists. This is the same methodology that companies and organizations of all stripes use to reach their target markets via direct mail.
Like most large databases, these lists are hardly flawless. Not long ago, Capital One made news for sending a deceased canine an offer for a $30,000 line of credit. Of course, even if the canine—or his owners—did manage to return the credit application, the approval verification process would have prevented an actual account from being opened.
Similarly, even if someone attempted to register their dog to vote by signing the erroneous form, getting around Virginia’s voter ID law and actually casting a ballot in Fido’s name would prove challenging, to say the least. And such a ridiculous endeavor would be considered a felony—in contrast to the imagined crimes of the Voter Participation Center.
It is telling that the Romney campaign did not attempt to level charges of genuine “election fraud.” Presumably, they are assuming that most people will conflate their trumped up accusations with something that could actually impact the outcome of an election.
Mike Turzai, Pennsylvania’s Republican House Majority Leader, was not so artful in describing his own state’s voter ID legislation. Outright claiming that the law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania,” Turzai briefly forgot the playbook.
The GOP’s efforts to restrict ballot access are marketed as principled attempts to protect democracy itself from unscrupulous schemes meant to sway elections. The fact that the vast majority of those affected by the policies are overwhelmingly likely to vote Democratic is simply dismissed as a side effect.
And indeed, Turzai’s spokesman subsequently attempted to claim the majority leader’s statement was simply in reference to preventing ongoing “election fraud” in the state. However, in failing to make the distinction between “voter registration fraud” and “election fraud,” the staffer overplayed his hand.
Several days after Turzai’s exercise in accidental truth-telling, lawyers representing the State of Pennsylvania in a federal lawsuit challenging the voter ID law were forced to admit that there “have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania.”
Reasonable voter ID policies can indeed help protect the integrity of elections, and allay whatever concerns exist among the populace regarding people casting fraudulent votes in the name of their pets or the deceased. However, Pennsylvania’s voter ID law addresses a problem that even supporters of the legislation have been forced to admit probably doesn’t exist. At the same time, huge swaths of eligible citizens—including up to 43 percent of registered Philadelphia voters—will be potentially unable to cast a ballot in November.
The nationwide assault on voting rights is a multi-pronged strategy. In addition to introducing new policies, GOP operatives make use of existing law to suppress the vote whenever possible. The political funhouse known as Florida is also facing a federal lawsuit in response to a purge of alleged non-citizens from the voter rolls.
The purge, inspired by a local news report on voting by non-citizens, turned out to be based on data that was riddled with errors, and—like Pennsylvania’s voter ID law—an apparent overcompensation for a problem that, if it exists at all, is negligible to the actual outcome of elections.
Florida’s situation is the end result of several years of brazen audacity on the part of Republicans to prevent as many of the wrong sort of people from voting as possible. Up until this year, the strategy has been over-aggressive purges of felons that just so happened to ensnare large numbers of non-criminals—and likely Democratic voters—with similar names.
Appeals could be made in the event of a mistake—of which there were many—though that would require the affected party to know they had been purged, and the notification process was notoriously ineffective. And, even if someone found they had been erroneously stripped of their right to vote, the procedure of getting reinstated was sufficiently onerous to discourage all but the most stalwartly civic-minded.
American democracy has always been an uncertain creature, and, with the multitude of cancers currently infecting the body politic, it is understandable that many citizens have come to believe the act of voting doesn’t matter. But if that were true, there would be no need for the GOP to put so much energy into massaging the outcome of elections by restricting ballot access.