22 October 2012

The voter-fraud question and the conflict of myths

So much for objectivity: A New Yorker profile of political activist and author Hans von Spakovsky identifies him as the principal inventor of "the Voter-Fraud Myth" through his advocacy of photo-I.D. requirements for voters. Jane Mayer justifies the label with evidence indicating that the specific type of fraud that Spakovsky supposedly most fears, that which will allow one person to vote by impersonating another, is infinitesimally rare. Showing a narrow range of historical awareness, Mayer appears to endorse without comment a critic's claim that Spakovsky's co-authored book Who's Counting has made a belief in Democratic cheating at election time "has become part of the Republican orthodoxy," as if the possibility had never occurred to a Republican before Spakovsky went to work. The truth is, Republicans have presumed Democrats guilty of cheating for as long as there have been Republicans. But Mayer writes of "sordid episodes from the American past" as if she can identify a point in time after which elections must be presumed unimpeachably honest. When this happened exactly is unclear. Call me a cynic, however, but my presumption is that both major parties will cheat whenever possible. On that assumption, I share Mayer's basic suspicion that Republicans are waxing hysterical over the likelihood of fraud in order to suppress Democratic turnout by inconveniencing presumed Democratic voters through photo-I.D. requirements. As I've written before, no matter how you spin it, making it more difficult for past voters to vote in the next election objectively counts as vote suppression, even without taking partisan motives into account, unless you presume, as not even many Republicans do, that all voters lacking photo I.D. today are fraudulent. The burden of proof remains upon the GOP to show no intent to suppress turnout by making photo ID as easy as possible to acquire, including making it free to avoid the appearance of a poll tax. But if Republicans are guilty of mythmongering as a matter of degree -- of arguing that fraud is so pervasive that it has actually decided recent elections and might decide future contests -- Democrats are also guilty of mythmongering when they demand to be presumed absolutely innocent. History doesn't allow such a sweeping assumption, nor does it allow us to take a "We aren't like that any more" claim on faith. I've seen cases of monkeying (or alleged monkeying) with absentee ballots on the local level that throw Democratic pleas of purity into question. The only thing you can say for the Democrats is that they don't seem interested in stopping Republicans from voting -- as far as I can tell. Republican readers of this blog might have different stories. In any event, the perpetuation of the two-party system, the American Bipolarchy, for 150 years despite the cyclical discrediting of each major party -- and the cycle seems to be accelerating -- is proof enough that the American electoral system is rigged in some way that benefits both major parties. The only difference may be that the system is rigged unconsciously through some collective insanity, or at least a collective failure of imagination, and not consciously through an illegal conspiracy. Republicans may cry fraud and Democrats may cry suppression, but the real crime is that the nation is still stuck having to choose between them.

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