Voter fraud exists in the United States. But it’s not what you think. Democrats insist that voter fraud is non-existent, whereas Republicans claim that it’s a huge, out-of-control problem. They’re both wrong and right.
Voter fraud in the form of voter suppression is out of control, particularly since the 2018 mid-term elections. There’s no evidence of a vast conspiracy of ineligible voters tipping the balance of power during elections. There is, however, a well-documented and even admitted effort among elected politicians to keep certain demographic groups from voting. And it may be thwarting the will of the people.
Voter ID laws and other archaic practices are not solutions to this problem. The opposite holds true. We find ourselves in a political quagmire, where the only way to solve the problem is by voting out the very people who make it difficult for Americans to vote.
Voter fraud, or electoral fraud, as defined by Wikipedia:
“illegal interference with the process of an election, either by increasing the vote share of the favored candidate, depressing the vote share of the rival candidates, or both.”
Voter suppression is defined as:
“attempts to reduce the number of voters who might vote against a candidate or proposition.”
The only real difference being that one is considered illegal and the other isn’t. At least not the way it is done most commonly. Of course, it is illegal to threaten, attack, or physically block voters from entering polling places. But, when state legislatures pass laws that serve to make voting more difficult, or to keep organizations from registering large groups of eligible non-voters, it is legal in the name of protecting elections.
If you consider all the bureaucracy and intricacies that go into state and federal elections it’s easy to see how tricky it is. A balance between easy voter enrollment and protecting the integrity of the election has to be struck. Voter fraud does happen in America, but very rarely. When it does occur it is usually in the form of individuals voting twice or impersonating others.
In other instances, problems have to do with human error or bureaucratic slip-ups. Out of numerous studies done by various think tanks and universities, the instances of proven voter fraud were negligible. The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, has a list of instances of proven voter fraud in the United States, but even taking those inappreciable cases into account, there is little evidence for the need of the new laws recently passed.
Even if there were more than a few bad actors trying to influence our elections through voter fraud, it would be up to state and federal governments to solve the issue without putting a burden on the American people. As it stands, the current laws do more to keep American citizens from voting than to keep some imagined threat at bay. These factors contribute to the abysmally low voter turnout that has been the trend in this country for decades. Voting, as important as it is, should be the easiest thing to do in a democracy such as ours.
All this is to say nothing of what’s being done about the real threat to our democracy from Russian provocateurs. While this threat seems to have been dismissed as nonsense by President Trump, it’s important to remember that he formed a commission to investigate claims of voter fraud. This was an apparent response to his loss of the popular vote in the 2016 election. The short-lived commission found no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Despite this, Trump and the Republican Party have continued to insist that widespread voter fraud is a persistent problem while ignoring the foreign threat.
Florida Lawmakers Ignore Their Constituency
Florida voters went to the polls in November 2018 and passed Amendment 4, turning over a Reconstruction-era law that prohibited convicted felons from voting. Convicted sex offenders, murders, and those incarcerated still can’t vote. But, all told it gave about 1.4 million Florida residents the right to cast a ballot once again. Most American states bar those in prison from voting but have some sort of reinstatement program for those who have served their sentences. Florida was one of three holdouts, the other two being Kentucky and Iowa.
Amendment 4 in Florida had passed, exceeding the required supermajority of 60%. There was no real opposition to the amendment and even some bipartisan support. But now the Republican-held legislature is aiming to reel in that sweeping change with SB 7066. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the new changes will expand the language of Amendment 4 to include those felons who have yet to finish paying their monetary restitution. According to the Brookings Institute, many felons lived below the poverty line before they were incarcerated, and now, with a criminal record, have an even harder time finding gainful employment. SB 7066 did include language to allow courts to change monetary fees to community service hours, on a case-by-case basis. Under the new law, those hours would need to be finished before the right to vote could be restored.
Although the state representatives were voted in by the people of Florida— to carry out the will of the people— it seems that they are willfully ignoring the wishes of their constituency by changing the effectiveness and scope of the amendment passed by some 5 million Florida voters in November 2018.
Voter Suppression in Texas and Tennessee
Even if we discounted the idea that strict voter ID laws are a form of voter suppression, which some studies say has no real impact on elections one way or the other, we’re still left to contend with laws that are inexplicable.
Take, for example, Texas Senate Bill 9, which was originally put forth as a move to adopt new voting machines for all of Texas by 2024. In its current incantation, however, the bill has lost all of the voting-machine language and instead, among other things, proposes to charge Texans with a felony for incorrectly filling out a ballot, even if they do it by mistake. It would also make it harder for those with disabilities to have a person of their choice to help them cast their ballots.
The reasoning behind this bill was to further secure elections. The Texas Association of Election Administrators opposed the bill in no uncertain terms. As of this writing, Texas Senate Bill 9 seems to be dead, possibly as a result of fierce opposition. But the very fact that it was even considered, and that it’s not an anomaly, speaks volumes about the hurdles that voters face in many states.
Another such measure signed into law in April by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee makes it possible to levy criminal charges against voter registration groups who turn in a certain number of incomplete or inaccurate registration forms. Tennessee saw a significant increase in registered Democrats before the 2018 election, many from the efforts of exactly such groups that Tennessee’s Republican-backed law aims to punish.
Several civil rights organizations have filed suit, arguing that the law is unconstitutional. Among other things, it targets those organizations who pay their workers to register voters. Any organization that sends in 500 or more incomplete or inaccurate registration forms could be fined $10,000, and 100 or more inaccurate forms could cost them a fine of $2,000. Also, the law is a measure that would make it a misdemeanor for any election organization member to miss state-led training classes, resulting in a fine, jail time or both.
This law would create a 10-day window in which the groups collecting registration forms would have to send them in or risk being penalized. The resulting system is one in which the organizers only have ten days to check all of the registration forms for mistakes before they’re required to turn them in. An impossible feat for organizations that are registering thousands of voters. Again, this is being done in the name of securing elections.
Georgia’s Many Voter Suppression Laws
Georgia is perhaps the best example of the many different types of voter suppression happening in America. Since the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v Holder, which declared some sections of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, counties in many southern states have enacted voter suppression laws under the guise of election integrity. Previously, those sections of the Voting Rights Act required by law certain jurisdictions with a history of racist voter suppression laws to seek approval from the federal government before altering their election laws. With those requirements now gone, it seems that some Republican lawmakers are doing everything they can to disenfranchise minority southern voters.
Of the several controversial Georgia voting laws, perhaps the most publicized has been the “exact match” policy. In essence, this policy states that the name of the voter on the registration form has to exactly match the name on their social security card or drivers license. This means that if a person omits a middle name or a hyphen, their application is put on hold and they’re notified that they need to make a correction within a certain time-frame. If they don’t correct their application within the set time limit, their application is rejected.
Under the law, the citizens with pending registrations are still able to vote provided they bring proper ID with them to the polling place. According to the Associated Press, many people whose registration has been put on hold have no idea that it has even happened, much less what action to take to correct it.
That’s only part of the problem. Georgia’s then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp refused to step down as he ran for governor— and won— in 2018. The Republican stayed in office to oversee the election of which he was a candidate. Several lawsuits had been filed against his office for alleged voter disenfranchisement laws like “exact match” and “signature match” that affected a disproportionate number of African American voters in Georgia.
During the run-up to the election an audio recording, obtained by Rolling Stone, presented Kemp expressing his dismay at the increasing number of voter registrations in the state. This added to his office’s purging the voter rolls of some 100,000 registered voters who were removed for being inactive in recent elections, paints a bleak picture for voting rights.
Also in Georgia, there has been controversy surrounding the rejection of mail-in ballots, the prosecution of activist organizations participating in voter registration, and incredibly long lines at polling places.
“…since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act, nearly a thousand polling places have been shuttered across the country, many of them in southern black communities.”Pew Trusts
Voter suppression is happening all across the country. Georgia is just an especially bright microcosm of the problems voters— particularly minority voters— face in America today. These laws are as much psychological as they are practical. Studies show that where voter registration is easy or automatic, voter turnout is highest. Laws like the ones passed in Tennessee serve to deter people from volunteering or working to help others register, for fear of fines or jail time.
Voter Fraud by Law
In a country that touts its democratic processes and sees very little voter fraud, it follows that voting ease would be a priority. Fortunately, in some states it is. As of this writing 17 states and the District of Columbia participate in automatic voter registration. We’re seeing a surge of registrations across much of the country. As a result, Republicans have aimed to make it as difficult as possible for minority citizens to vote. Why? Overwhelmingly, when minorities register, they register Democrat. Some Republicans have even admitted that the reason they pass these laws is to target Democratic voters. Keeping voters from the polls— no matter how you do it— is voter fraud any way you look at it.
Knowing all this it’s no surprise that voter apathy is still strong in America, due mostly to voter suppression laws, disillusionment, and a general lack of attractive candidates. America has had a long and storied past with voter suppression, and it’s still holding strong in many states. Opposition to voter suppression laws is a start, but voting out politicians who draft those laws is really a step in the right direction.
In conclusion, here is a rather ironic passage found in an article on the conservative Heritage Foundation website calling for more voter ID laws:
“So long as these circumstances remain unchanged, American elections will be vulnerable to those willing to put their own personal interests or political preferences ahead of the will of the voters.”
Succinctly put, although aimed at a problem that, by most accounts, doesn’t exist.
So long as the Republican Party is allowed to remain in power and commit voter fraud through the use of voter suppression laws, then the true will of the people will never be known.