Writer's Note: Written, originally, in 2012 for Mint Press News.
Forty-eight years ago on June 21, 1964, three young civil rights workers—a 21-year-old black Mississippian, James Chaney, and two white New Yorkers, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24—were murdered near Philadelphia, in Neshoba County, Mississippi.
They had been working to register black voters in Mississippi during Freedom Summer and had gone to investigate the burning of a black church. They were arrested by the police on trumped-up charges, imprisoned for several hours, and then released after dark into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, who beat and murdered them. It was later proven in court that a conspiracy existed between members of Neshoba County's law enforcement and the Ku Klux Klan to kill them.
Here we are in 2012 and although the threat of physical violence and murder has dissipated a great deal, the right to vote is still under attack. Yes, I am speaking of the voter ID laws that have been passed in several states that stand to disenfranchise approximately 21 million legal voters across the nation.
Voter-fraud claims debunked
The alleged impetus for this change in policy in states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida, was that the laws would prevent (in-person) voter fraud at the polls. Does this charge stand under closer scrutiny and further research? Not at all.
An analysis of 2,068 reported fraud cases by News21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, found 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation since 2000 --- less than one case a year. With 146 million registered voters in the United States, those represent about one for every 15 million prospective voters. To put that statistic in greater perspective:
·The odds of being on an airline flight which results in at least one fatality, while flying with top 30 airlines with the best accident rates, would be 1 in 11.4 million.
·There are more than 40,000 malls in this country, and each is open about 75 hours per week. If a person shopped for two hours each week and terrorists were able to destroy one mall per week, the odds of being at the wrong place at the wrong time would be approximately 1.5 million to 1.
· Three thousand Americans die each year from lung cancer caused by second-hand exposure to cigarette smoke, making it a 126,666 to 1 chance.
Those who stand to be hit the hardest by these new requirements will be people of color, the poor, and the elderly, who often don’t own cars. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, 25 percent of African-Americans and 18 percent of all Americans over 65 lack the kind of government-issued ID that will let them vote under the new, restrictive state laws. There are some who say “big deal, why shouldn’t people be required to obtain ID in order to vote?”
The problem doesn’t lie with having ID, but with the type of ID one must now have in order to vote. Prior to the 2006 election, no state ever required a voter to produce a government-issued photo ID as a condition to voting. Further, this requirement comes at a time when some of the very states that have passed voter ID legislation (such as Pennsylvania) have reduced DMV hours and have fewer offices in areas where the lack of state-issued ID is at its highest. But the requirement is a betrayal, of sorts, of the smaller government and less bureaucracy mantra that conservatives continually run on. By passing this legislation, they have made government and bureaucracy all the more necessary by making it compulsory for about 21 million, previously legitimate, voters to obtain government ID and flood DMV offices all over the country. The reason that in-person voter fraud allegations falls on their face, is because the penalty far outweighs any benefit or advantage. Each act of voter fraud risks five years in prison and a $10,000 fine – for a single vote? If it doesn’t make sense, that’s because… it doesn’t.
Crunching the numbers from some of the more contested elections in the past 10 years or so, we see the same flimsy justifications. Evidence from the extremely scrutinized 2004 gubernatorial election in Washington State actually reveals what really happens: although voter fraud does happen, it happens approximately 0.0009% of the time. The similarly closely analyzed 2004 election in Ohio revealed a voter fraud rate of 0.00004%. The National Weather Service data shows that Americans are struck and killed by lightning about as often. Manufactured Dissent This latest boogey-man contrived to suppress the vote should come as no surprise. We saw the beginning of the nadir of these tactics in 2009 with ACORN. ACORN received significant negative publicity in the wake of the 2009 production and publication of videos, which were later found to be partially falsified and selectively edited, by two conservative activists, James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles. The activists used hidden-camera recordings to portray low-level ACORN employees as engaging in criminal activity, apparently advising them on how to hide prostitution activities and avoid taxes. A nationwide controversy ensued, immediately resulting in a loss of funding from government and private donors, including legislative amendments to spending bills in the United States House and Senate prohibiting government funding of the group. Republicans railed; Democrats folded, and an extremely effective voter registration group was left bruised, bloodied and on life support.
Following the publication of the videos and withdrawal of funding, four different independent investigations by various state and city Attorneys General and the GAO (Government Accountability Office) released in 2009 and 2010 cleared ACORN, finding its employees had not engaged in criminal activities and that the organization had managed its federal funding appropriately, and calling the videos deceptively and selectively edited to present the workers in the worst possible light. Despite this, by March 2010, 15 of ACORN's 30 state chapters had already closed and the group announced it was closing its remaining state chapters and disbanding. How much did we hear about the exoneration of ACORN, especially in light of the very loud and vociferous denouncements of the organization? You see, an easily disproved lie only has to be effective in muddying the waters and creating the intended damage. Now, an organization that would have been extremely helpful, in the wake of these new laws, was rendered useless and non-existent. And the disgraced “journalist” James O’Keefe was thrust out of the spotlight, by the same people who gladly exploited his doctored video and share his political leanings – please do not trip over the truth as you exit the stage – and an ADHD-afflicted public is on to the next manufactured controversy. Voter fraud claims at odds with the facts Of particular note, the Republican National Lawyers Association compiled a list of 375 election fraud cases, based mostly on news reports of alleged fraud. News21 examined the RNLA cases in the database and found only 77 were alleged fraud by voters. Of those, News21 could verify convictions or guilty pleas in only 33 cases. Their own database showed no RNLA cases of voter-impersonation fraud. Pennsylvania officials, who responded to the News21 public record requests, also reported no cases of Election Day voter-impersonation fraud since 2000 as well. So the question remains… why this law? Ronald Reagan and (Nixon-appointee) Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger had a very different approach to what we see currently. Reagan, in 1982, signed into law a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Key to that act is found in section two, where it forbids any “standard, practice, or procedure” that abridges the right to vote on account of race or color. In 1982, section two was amended to make the threshold even higher (if states engaged in voter discrimination), in that, it not only forbade any “standard, practice, or procedure” enacted with an undesirable racial purpose, but it was expanded to anything denying equal opportunity to voters of color. Context Matters Context and backdrop are important. For example, the Supreme Court’s 1886 (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad) declaration that corporations were legally recognized “persons,” took place against the backdrop of the denial of the rights of, very real, African-American persons. In other words, the 14th Amendment that was passed to give rights to newly-emancipated slaves was being used to grant rights and freedoms to corporations --- of the 309 cases involving the 14th Amendment from 1890 to 1910, 288 involved corporations; only 19 involved African-Americans.
More recently, the GOP-proposed spending cuts won’t just inordinately impact America’s most vulnerable; they will take place against the backdrop of huge tax cuts for society’s most wealthy. As you can see, context is extremely important. So, against what backdrop are the latest, and totally unnecessary, voter ID laws taking place? In what context can we place the, statistically insignificant, 1 in 15 million, voter impersonation figure?
While the carefully-constructed ghosts of voter cheats are being chased, the reality of 1 of 300 deaths being caused by gun violence doesn’t even rise to level of enough concern to craft sane or serious gun control laws. As a matter fact (unfazed by Aurora, CO and Oak Creek, WI), the platform out of the GOP’s convention emphatically states the right to have unlimited clips with unlimited rounds. As the pursuit of the apparitions of hordes of illegitimate voters is being justified, approximately 45,000 Americans die each year from a lack of adequate healthcare --- about 1 out 8444. Lip service is paid to concern about the health and physical welfare of those who are uncovered and yet their proposed policies stand to increase the aforementioned forty-five thousand figure.
Conclusion The American vote is soaked in the blood of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman; baptized in the sweat and tears of Fannie Lou Hamer, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady. Yes, like John Brown’s, the bodies of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman lie moldering in the grave and their blood cries out against this newest incarnation of poll taxes and grandfather clauses. And yet, not only their blood, but the blood from the streets of Tahir Square; from the polling stations of Afghanistan and Palestine and from the rooftops of Iran. Although this law is poised to have the greatest impact on voters of color, its reverberations will be felt by the young of every hue and the elderly of every ethnicity; the white rural citizen and the urban inhabitants of every shade. We are, by legislation, being teleported to another time in the (not so desirable) past and whether it is a brief detour, or an extended stay is all a matter of the resolve of people committed to a just cause. And that’s not surprising… because that’s the way it’s always been.