"Important Voter Information" arrived in my P.O. box this morning. This turned out to be an alarmist begging letter from People For the American Way, warning that "The Radical Right will suppress five million votes in the 2012 Elections. Will yours be one of them?" Inside, PFAW president Michael Keegan explains that "religious extremists" and "greedy corporate interests," along with the aforementioned radical right, want to deny people the right to vote on the pretense of preventing fraudulent voting. Keegan cites laws in effect or in the works in Wisconsin, Georgia and New Hampshire, while today's news brings word that the Justice Department is challenging an anti-fraud law in Texas. In all such cases, a requirement that voters show photo ID at polling places are "inexcusable and unjust" because they "target youth, minorities, low-income people and communities that are more likely to vote Democratic." They are also unnecessary, in Keegan's opinion, because "so-called 'voter fraud' occurred at a rate of less than 0.0000004% from 2002 to 2006."
Fraudulent voting has been a commonplace of American political history. Read any account of an election from a century or so ago and you'll notice that reporters usually took it for granted that both major parties were cheating in various ways, from bribing undecideds to getting people to vote multiple times in multiple districts. PFAW would not dare say that fraud has never been a factor in elections. But opportunities for old-school fraud would seem to have diminished drastically in recent times. On the other hand, this Republican writer complains that Democrats have used statistics and definitions selectively to minimize the volume of fraud. The writer hurts his own cause, however, by arguing that "mere statistics are a terrible way to determine whether vote fraud is occurring." He has a point, which is that if you presume that fraud benefits corrupt political machines in different communities, prosecutors in those communities will have little motive to prosecute fraud, thus minimizing fraud statistics. But that sentence sounds too much like typical Republican faith-based reasoning to be taken seriously by neutral observers.
I do not presume Democratic innocence, nor do I presume Republican innocence. All I can do is note the peculiar consistency with which one party seeks to minimize the number of people voting while the other seeks to maximize turnout. There's got to be a reason for that, but it no more justifies a defense of Democratic practices on "partisan immunity" grounds than it does the Republican presumption of guilt whenever a Democrat wins. When fraud happens today, I suspect it's more likely to take the form alleged in Troy, NY, where I work. There, party operatives are accused of securing absentee ballots from people under false pretenses and using them to cast votes the supposed victims never meant to cast. The defendants in this particular case are Democrats, but Republicans are the ones more likely in my experience to demand that every absentee ballot be counted in close elections, so absentee-ballot fraud is a game that two can certainly play. In any event, apart from the questionable prevalence of fraud, Democrats tend to oppose ID requirements on the assumption that they create hardships for people who somehow have gotten along without photo ID until election season. Not every hardship claim is credible, but not all can be dismissed, either. Should a photo ID requirement become universal, free photo IDs should become universal as well, since it could still be argued that requiring anyone to pay for one simply in order to vote is equivalent to levying a poll tax.
But what's People For the American Way going to do about this? They want me to contribute $15 or more, with a Congressional Directory as an incentive, so they can "expose the right's underhanded strategies" and "make sure all Americans know what the Right is doing." In other words, they sent this letter to me hoping that I'd help pay for it and feel like I'd done a public service. Meanwhile, for what it's worth, I've let you in on what the Right is doing, with a little objectivity thrown in -- and it cost you nothing! No thanks are necessary; it's just my bit of public service for the day.