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By Tom Cushing

Voting Initiatives, for Reals this Time

Uploaded: Apr 6, 2014

A commenter recently suggested that I'd lost interest in voting as a blog topic. Apparently I had not responded quickly or relevantly enough to suit his 'druthers. I do think it's important for me not to automatically leap into the fray in response to blog comments, lest anyone conclude that I am alone in espousing these thoughts. It may slow things down some, but encourages the expression of a variety of other viewpoints.

The commenter correctly identified, twice, that my prior blog had been an April Fools Day gag, and good for him for paying attention. That does not mean that the blog is not making a serious point about attempts from the Right to limit the exercise of the franchise.

On one level, that approach is completely unsurprising – the GOP is the minority party, facing inevitably deteriorating long term demographics, and they are trying to compete. So, if your ranks are dwindling and your message does not resonate with emerging constituencies of Americans, you then determine to keep those opponents from voting.

It makes sense in an amoral way -- if you can't raise the bridge, then lower the river. That's what political parties do – they compete.
What I find to be objectionable and laughably disingenuous is anyone's attempt to cloak these tactics in a 'good governance' garment. Let's look at a few of the arguments thus employed, against the factual record.

"We have to address fraud." Fraud in the process is potentially an important issue – but the key word there is 'potentially,' more than 'important.' There is simply no credible evidence of significant systemic fraud in American elections, as even the Wall Street Journal points-out.

Both Parties poll-watch, and prosecutors would love to bring such cases – if many of them really existed. But they don't – the incidence of fraud is miniscule – a few thousandths of a percent. Again, even the 'numbers guy' at WSJ points out that if you wanted to steal an election, you wouldn't do it by individually defrauding the process. It's too costly, inefficient and vulnerable -- but you might try to do it by rigging machines, or suppressing the vote.

"The public must have confidence in the election process". Or what – they won't vote? Frankly, in low turnout elections, like the upcoming Midterms, the GOP does differentially better. They vote – in good weather or bad, and at habitually higher rates than other citizens. They, at least, have somehow never lost confidence. Also, where is the evidence of this "low confidence" problem, anyway? It's nowhere to be found. Hell, "Low T" isn't really a problem either, but at least we hear about it. This is just another make-weight argument, addressing an illusory theoretical problem.

"It's too costly." Please try to get reliable numbers on election administration costs, especially as a percentage of overall government expenses. I dare you. I failed in such a search, and there's a good reason it is not easy to find those numbers -- the cost is trivial. Of ALL the places where government spends money, is there any one of them more fundamental and central than voting? We are not driving-up the deficit by allowing folks to participate in the single most fundamental expression of democracy.

No, Republican tactics have been very clear, and antithetical to good governance. They are completely explained by the compete-at-any-cost model. Voter suppression has a rich history in these United States, from literacy tests, to poll taxes, various other restrictions on registration and voting – and always, and only, in the name of winning. Those 'traditions' were, of course, the primary reason for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a law recently weakened by the Shelby County case. Let's look at what the GOP has been up to of late, and where.

Swing States emphasis. Ohio, North Carolina and Wisconsin are hotbeds of GOP electoral process tampering – and they are all hotly contested. If this was good governance, why not target big states – like California and New York? Is our state GOP active in this arena? Their current platform mentions many concerns, but manages Not to mention voting or elections. Again, if it's about competing, I understand – put your resources where they might make a difference; but let's please call it what it is.

Restrictions on voting. These are more problematic on the merits. They include moving polling places, reducing their total number (especially in urban areas), and curtailing early voting opportunities. Each of these tactics is designed to differentially discourage voters who tend to vote Democrat. Long lines, confusing and fewer locations, less access – all in service to favoring those who will vote no matter what. There is nothing in the good governance manual to suggest that voting should be hard, or restricted to those who want it most. It's not properly made a Herculean task. Quite the contrary, good civic engagement and public policy interests dictate that voting should be encouraged.

Restrictions on Registration. Should there be some reasonable assurance that a potential voter is who s/he purports to be? Sure, but how many degrees of due diligence should be required? State worker and student ID cards have been eliminated in North Carolina, because they do not have a photo on the card. How much fraud do you think is thereby avoided – other than none? But state workers and students tend to vote ? wait for it ? Democrat. Moreover, whatever documents you require – driver's licenses, passports, birth certificates -- lower income people will have fewer of them. This is a discouragement numbers game, and it tilts the totals, at the margin.

One particular new restriction merits mention as cynically revealing: North Carolina has also ended a formerly effective program to pre-register high school students to vote. All those bright-eyed recent civics students, intent on making the world their own and a better place – should we facilitate that interest, enthusiasm and participation? Nah, they're really a bunch of precocious grifters, intent on subverting the ideals of the republic. And they cost too much.

So I am sorry to confirm that the previous blog was, indeed, a fantasy. The joke is on us all.