Voter Fraud? Let’s Worry About Voter Suppression

Voter fraud has been something of an obsession of more than a few GOPers for a few years now. They seem to think that there are millions of poor people who vote multiple times and that’s why Democrats are sometimes competitive and why Obama may win.

Remember four years ago when a guy trying to get a homeless voter to the polls and gave the guy a cigarette? “They’re buying votes with smokes!!!” screamed our GOP friends.

The fact is that there has not been any massive amount of voter fraud in recent years.

In fact, according to Bernard College political scientist who has studied voter fraud in the US for eight years:

From 2002 to 2005 only one person was found guilty of registration fraud. Twenty people were found guilty of voting while ineligible and five people were found guilty of voting more than once. That’s 26 criminal voters — voters who vote twice, impersonate other people, vote without being a resident — the voters that Republicans warn about. Meanwhile thousands of people are getting turned away at the polls.

Political parties and corrupt election officials, on the other hand, do seem to present a potential problem. We should be a great deal more worried about who has access to the ballots. In terms of illegal aliens voting and people voting twice — the popular images of voter fraud — no I don’t think that there is any risk at all.

The allegations of massive voting by illegal aliens has always amused me. I’ve known hundreds of illegal aliens in different contexts, and pretending to be American citizens so that they can vote seems to be one of the last of their concerns. Of course, since they live in this country, they have opinions on our political going-ons, but they’re far more interested in making a living and taking care of their families than they are in illegal voting.

But why is the GOP pretending that voter fraud is such an issue?

Well, in this cycle it’s another nice pretend issue that fires up their base. It’s also a nice distraction to help ensure that some voters stop worrying about the economy or other real issues.

But if we’re talking about problems with voting, there is a serious issue, and that’s voter suppression. The GOP doesn’t want you to vote if you are not going to vote for their people. In 2004, they went all-out to suppress the vote in Ohio. Ken Blackwell, Secretary of State of Ohio at the time did a good job at making it difficult for urban inhabitants to vote by decreasing the number of voting machines in cities. Thousands of eligible voters were knocked off the voter rolls for no good reason.

And though it looks like we might be on the verge of an Obama landslide, they’re still going to try to keep people from voting.

The Democrats should be watching urban black working-class neighborhoods in key states where the Obama and McCain campaigns are running strong field operations — Cleveland being a good example. These are prime spots for voter suppression. College students will also be targeted, especially minority students. College towns in places like North Carolina, Indiana and Florida may come into play. Election officials in Blacksburg and Fredericksburg, Va., and El Paso County, Colo., have already spread some disinformation about student voting. Similarly, areas that have added large numbers of new Latino voters might be challenged if they are in key states where anti-immigrant fervor is high, which could open the door in New Mexico and Texas.

The Obama campaign should also expect long lines and confusion at the polls and try to figure out where confusion is most likely to arise — where voting process rules have changed most recently, and where there are likely to be equipment shortages. They need to know which cities and towns have disproportionately high numbers of new voters and those places where election officials are likely to challenge legal ballots. They should watch places like Milwaukee, Seattle, St. Louis and Cleveland, which were labeled as voter fraud “hot spots” by the discredited and now defunct American Center for Voting Rights that spread disinformation during the 2006 election. These places should receive extra attention and efforts now to resolve predictable problems before they occur on Election Day.

Most importantly, the Democrats should devote resources to mobilizing vulnerable voters in particular — newly registered and first-time voters, students, minorities — so that if they do face challenges or problems at the polls they will be motivated to stick it out and work through them.

The GOP is going to work harder than ever to suppress minority votes.

Something tells me that the Obama campaign is eager to make sure that doesn’t happen.

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