Why Do Some Americans Not Want Other Americans to Vote?

Legendary Civil Rights leader and long-time US Rep. John Lewis of Georgia wrote an op-ed piece for today’s NYTimes. He charges that several states have passed laws controlling the voting process that will disproportionately burden voters who are racial minorities (govt. photo id required) or young (student id’s not allowed in South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Texas). Read his essay here, and get the NYT if you want more.

Congressman Lewis received an honorary degree from UMass Lowell in 2007.

The lesson here is that elections matter at every level. Decisions by state legislatures affect federal election outcomes. The Presidency, for one.

30 Responses to Why Do Some Americans Not Want Other Americans to Vote?

  1. kad barma says:

    Everyone should feel the outrage of a disproportionate burden that restricts the voting rights of one segment of the population more than another. But voter fraud should be at least as much of a concern to every conscientious citizen as universal (citizen) suffrage should be, in that every fraudulent vote cast distorts an election by just as much as any not. We require documentation to carry firearms, drive a car and cross our borders, all of which similarly and negatively impact the rights of the same group of citizens concerned in Lewis’ opinion piece, yet if he were to re-write his piece using gun ownership, driving and international travel as his premise, we’d better understand the good civic sense of needing to verify identity and qualification for the safety and good of all.

    We should be able to establish a fair and equitable and effective process to reflect the importance of the privilege of voting. Perhaps it would be one idea, in advance of such registration laws, to require funding to support identification drives to ensure certain segments of the population are not under-represented in the criteria for voting. The stats also show that these segments of the population already vote less frequently, even without identification requirements. Certainly such activity would help educate these groups as to the importance and value of voting “early and often”, and our entire process could be enriched.

  2. DickH says:

    If anyone could cite for me a single instance of this kind of voting fraud – like an indictment rather than an urban myth – I might be More inclined to treat such proposals as something more than an effort by one group to make it more difficult for others to participate in the electoral process. Absent that, I see these voter ID things as the modern poll tax

  3. Jack Mitchell says:

    Imagine that, a small government conservative advocating for big brother, big gov’t!

    The change, expected to cost about $6 million the first year and $4 million every year going forward, was called for by Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011-13 budget and was meant to address an increase in demand for photo IDs in the wake of the state’s new law requiring voters to show ID at the polls.

    Wisconcon DOT Site

    Youtube video showing the maladies associated to this “law.” Actual footage of a young voter trying to get a “proper ID.”

    Shawn can point at episodes from before WWII, what is above is happening NOW!

  4. kad barma says:

    Don’t misunderstand my point. I am NOT for burdensome, discriminatory or ill-conceived voting standards that would deny any citizen the fair right to vote.

    However, to Dick’s request for examples, consider the April 2011 conviction of Lessadolla Sowers for fraudulent voting in the 2007 Democratic primary election. (http://www.tunicatimes.com/index.php?view=article&id=1176). Peter Roff writes about the subject in greater detail in this US News & World Report opinion piece from just a few weeks ago: http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/peter-roff/2011/07/29/despite-what-democrats-claim-voter-fraud-is-real.

    I agree with Peter Roff, and I believe claiming this isn’t a real issue is naive. There’s more in the current headlines:

    Voter fraud against the potential first black city councilman in Waller, TX, is being investigated by the DOJ. http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Voter-fraud-allegations-stir-Waller-controversy-2122602.php.

    Troy, NY city clerk William McInerney pleaded guilty this week to knowingly submitting fraudulent absentee ballots, and at least two sitting politicians have been indicted as part of the case. http://wnyt.com/article/stories/S2257559.shtml?cat=300

    Mother Jones even points out potential voter fraud in Mitt Romney’s ballot in favor of Scott Brown: http://motherjones.com/mojo/2011/06/did-mitt-romney-commit-voter-fraud

    The lightning rod, of course is the 64,000 possible cases of voter fraud being investigated in New Mexico: http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/64000-cases-possible-voter-fraud-being-i

    It’s a difficult issue, which is why I suggest the focus should be on means to enfranchise those groups currently underrepresented in our elections. Having a simple, consistent and fair means of identifying voters is just one piece of that.

  5. DickH says:

    Let’s see what the “pro-ID” folks cite: we get a vague New Jersey case from 80 years ago; at least three of the above links refer to a Mississippi jury convicting a local NAACP official; in the North Carolina case, those charged used “early voting” then showed up at the polling place to be sure their votes counted, were told by the voting warden to vote again which they did using their true names both times – and no evidence they were convicted of anything.

    The Houston case didn’t involve this type of ID issue; it involved voter intimidation by incumbents. The New York case was incumbents charged with forging absentee ballots. The Massachusetts case alleged Mitt Romney committed fraud by voting for Scott Brown because he was not a legal resident of the state. And in the New Mexico case, the Secretary of State claimed that more than 10% of the people who voted in a statewide election committed fraud, an allegation made while she advocated this kind of “voter ID” law.

    The above is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s not even a preponderance of the evidence. That a jury in Mississippi, that historical hotbed of equal voting rights, convicts an NAACP official leaves me unmoved. And still no evidence of ANY vote fraud of this type in Massachusetts. I’m trying to deal with reality here which for me is what happens in Ward 8, Precinct 3.

    This kind of law, if enacted, would tend to disenfranchise the poor, the elderly, college students, and urban residents. Absent ANY proof it’s an actual problem here in the place where we all live, I can’t see it for anything but that.

  6. Bob Forrant says:

    What about Gov. Perry’s suggestions that we repeal the direct election of senators and return the procedure to state legislatures as it was in the 19th century? This seems of a piece with limiting who gets to vote for what and creating another kind of ‘means test’ for who can vote in certain types of elections. Do folks enamored with his candidacy think this is a step forward for democracy?

  7. kad barma says:

    Here in Lowell my most frequently-observed voting infraction is politicking within 150 feet of a polling place. (It happens consistently at the downtown polling location on Arcand Drive, and requires repeated calls to police to enforce). Elsewhere in Massachusetts, an organization called Neighbor To Neighbor has been observed escorting voters into voting booths and “assisting” their votes–a clear infraction of rules as well–though, to my knowledge, no legal proceeding was pursued after the practice was halted. These sorts of incidents are most frequently met with apathy and comments that they are “no big deal”.

    Closer to the point which prompted Lewis’ op-ed pice, Martha Coakley’s campaign was filmed distributing absentee ballots in the most recent election. http://hillbuzz.org/2010/01/19/voter-fraud-in-massachusetts-democrats-caught-passing-out-absentee-ballots-today-to-rig-vote-for-coakley/.

    If you would argue that even this fails to reach significance here in Massachusetts and that our laws and practices remain sufficient, I would certainly respect your point of view as reasonable. However, to John Lewis’ argument that any and all efforts to tighten up voting improprieties elsewhere in the nation via better identification of voters are tantamount to poll taxes, I would again bring up the conviction in Mississippi, the guilty plea and further indictments in NY, and the 64,000 cases under investigation in NM, and suggest that people residing in other states cannot enjoy the same luxury of disinterest as you profess here in Massachusetts, because those incidents DID take place in their states. John Lewis would call such poll tax discrimination. I would disagree.

    It can’t be had both ways. Just because it’s not been discovered to be a felony-level problem here, does not mean that it has not reached felony-level problem elsewhere. You can’t brand all voting concerns as racist. (I’ll tell you that the sign-carrying election scofflaws here on Arcand Drive called me such and threatened violence to my suggestion that they were legally required to step back 150 feet, and I found that deeply troubling). Reasonable discussion is required, not race-baiting hyperbole.

  8. kad barma says:

    A thoughtful piece with useful links to various vote fraud allegations can be found here: http://justice-integrity.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=453:cutting-through-vote-fraud-claims-hypocrisy&catid=44:myblog

    The type of vote fraud allegation demonized by John Lewis is the characterization of bigoted righties attacking honest lefty voters. However, as you can see in the discussion, some of the most serious vote fraud allegations in the recent past are actually card-carrying lefties against machinations by republican machines. (Questionable processes in Florida and Ohio in favor of Dubya are the best known).

    It amazes me that so few years since “hanging chads” were a national discussion, we’ve returned to lefties arguing that election practices are just fine with them.

    I disagree. I disagreed about the results in Florida and Ohio back in the day, and I disagree with the situations being documented across the country today.

  9. George DeLuca says:

    In Lowell, we need to ensure that the political structure of all elected and appointed entities; as well as the public workforce working under the City Manager and School Committee reflect the demographis of the City. Read Bod Forrant’s book “The Big Move” for insight into this issue.

    We also must incorporate the diversity of the population in all needs analyses, planning and capital projects; and as we record history even now as its being made. There is much misconception leading to a general misperception today about this.

    I’m convinced that the progress noted above is happening as we speak, and that Lowell will become an example for the rest of the country, and the world, to emulate. Connectivity is key.

  10. Steve says:

    “In 2005, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that up to 3 percent of the 30,000 individuals called for jury duty from voter registration rolls over a two-year period in just one U.S. district court were not U.S. citizens. While that may not seem like many, just 3 percent of registered voters would have been more than enough to provide the winning presiden­tial vote margin in Florida in 2000. Indeed, the Cen­sus Bureau estimates that there are over a million illegal aliens in Florida, and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has prosecuted more non-citizen voting cases in Florida than in any other state.
    Florida is not unique.”

    Of course the diverse population of the city and of the country should be represented. But I can not overstay my visa or enter illegally into any country and maintain that I have the right to vote there. That’s silly. Young people show an ID to buy liquor, and did so even when the drinking age was 18. The question is not why Americans don’t want other Americans to vote-it’s do we want people to vote who are not citizens.

  11. George DeLuca says:

    The ComeToLowell.com position is that all legal citizens of Lowell who are eligible to register and vote must do so to be represented. We’ll do all we can to progress the mission this election, and, the major push now in progress will carry over for the 2013 election as well.

    Please see “2011 Lowell City Council Race Central” at http://www.cometolowell.com/2011_Council_Candidates.htm for comprehensive info including the schedules for: the upcoming “Lowell Rocks the Vote” Series which will be broadcast LIVE on LTC Channel 10, and, the “Candidate Forums” planned by the Lowell Neighborhood Council. “2011 Lowell City Council Race Central” will be accessible from the ComeToLowell.com home page up until the election. All are welcome to check back often for information and updates.

  12. Publius says:

    You certainly like moving the goalpost. You asked “for an indictment rather than an urban myth”. I then proceeded to provide you with a “conviction” which is definitely a step higher than an indictment. Yet you were dismissive of it. Last I knew, a conviction is proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
    The DA in the case is a Democrat has ties to the left leaning Center for Constitutional Rights. Not exactly a hot bed of right wing conspirators.
    Then you ask for evidence of any voter fraud in Massachusetts. The original article and your original response post was talking about nationwide, not Massachusetts. Once again, you have moved the goal post.
    Voter fraud is possible in Massachusetts. I have never been asked for an ID and could have easily used someone else’s name like the Mississippi case. How do we know if there is fraud, unless we start looking for it?

  13. Jack Mitchell says:

    Steve’s point about Jury Duty rings true. My wife has been summoned twice within the last 5 years. We need to provide her green card info to get it worked out. I don’t know how this happens.

    I think there is plenty of shenanigans with voting. Florida 2000? But this sort of thing is not the acts of individuals sneaking into the polling place, as if it were a cinema. The worst acts are conducted by crooked officials screwing with masses of rightful ballots.

    The Show Id baloney is weak Tea.

    Weak or not, the Tea Party moves ahead: (May 18, 2011 – New Boston, NH)
    The Attorney General’s Office was called and has begun an investigation. Assistant Attorney General Matt Mavrogeorge would not discuss specifics of the case. The sign itself is being held by New Boston police.

    It read, “Per pending legislation you will be required to produce a photo ID in order to receive a ballot. Please have your photo ID ready before you approach the ballot clerk.”

  14. PaulM says:

    Flordia 2000, as I recall, was about the balloting process–mechanics of punching the card and who got to count or recount good or bad votes afterward. I’ve never been totally comfortable with voting machines although I understand some things have to change in a country with a few hundred million people. Seems like it is too easy to manipulate at the far end of the process. I like the idea of a receipt–one person, one vote, and proof.

    WIth today’s technology, why can’t the elections office in a town or city hall take a photo of a person when he or she registers to vote (like Registry of Motor Vehicles does for car license) and have that accessible by laptop at the voting place on Election Day? The burden would be on those keeping the roll of voters instead of on the individual showing up to vote, who might not have i.d. handy for any number of reasons. This way you produce evidence once when you register. Election observers could be called in if there is a dispute at a polling place.

    The non-i.d. method is an honor system now. You declare your identity, and your name is checked off on the voting list. Nobody else can be you. Is it a sign of a sick civic culture that the level of public trust is sinking so low that an i.d. would be required to vote every time?

  15. Steve says:

    I guess I have become horribly distrustful of the public, but I think it’s due in large measure to the fact that I see people scamming the system everywhere. One strange thing is that some young people tell me these things without any apparent awareness that they’re breaking the law. “This guy paid my sister 5000 dollars to marry her, but it’s just so he can stay here.” I know a fifteen year old girl whose parents are getting her into a fake marriage in another country so he can move here, or were supposed to have done this summer-I haven’t seen her again yet. I had a young college woman tell me how she gets money because she claimed that her child was the result of an interlude with a stranger she met at a party who “went back to Florida.” She was living with the real father; he was a mechanic and made good money. When I suggested that this was wrong, she shrugged and said, “Everyone does it.” I could go on all day. Unfortunately fraud is a way of life for a lot of people, rich and poor alike.

  16. PaulM says:

    Situations as you describe, Steve, eat away at public trust and chew up the civic wood like termites. And as you say the infractions are in every socio-economic layer, from Wall Street to rural free delivery route 2.

  17. George DeLuca says:

    Steve, the situation that you describe is very real especially here in Lowell. I can remember it dating back to the early 70s, particularly with transients blatantly exploiting holes in the system, involving (for example) single (and some not so single) mothers on welfare who became enablers.

    The collateral damage to children, spouses, extended families and friends was devastating (no exaggeration). The economic impact was palpable and touched just about everyone’s lives in some way. Such holes in the system led to 9-11. There will be serious concerns about Homeland Security until the immigration laws, with the appropriate management, oversight & enforcement, are tightened up.

    Fortunately, the neighborhood groups in Lowell are working with LPD to develop a quite sophisticated system of vigilence which could easily be adapted to involve homeland security. But as soon as we adopt an “everyone is a suspect” mentality, all will be lost. Its better to embrace the cultural diversity in the City and extend a hand socially and politically to all those who are working hard to adapt, adjust and integrate themselves and their families into a new environment. Local job creation and a truly visionary economic development strategy for the City is key in this effort.

  18. kad barma says:

    Paul, I’m with you on distrust of voting machines, (I work in software, and there is NOTHING that isn’t hackable), and I agree that receipts are an important piece of system documentation–we do the same sort of thing with the big accounting systems with which I work, which isn’t the full solution, but a very helpful part. I’m also encouraged to hear your suggestion(s) on improving the process in a way that might allay your and Lewis’ concerns about fairness and equity. I didn’t mean to imply the concerns weren’t important, but I do feel it’s critical that we address problems in the system that are prompting the people who want the “national ID” (nuclear) option put in place to address their equally valid and important observations of improprieties not currently being addressed. It’s not racist to be concerned about voter fraud, especially when one of the current examples is of a black city council candidate allegedly done in by unscrupulous and possibly racially bigoted opponents. Lewis, unfortunately, only appears to be able to see voting issues in black and white, or else he’s pretending to be that way in order to defend his sacred cow. I don’t feel the dialogue is productive when it’s like that.

  19. C R Krieger says:

    Getting to vote is very important.  Does it always happen in Lowell?  ABSOLUTELY NOT!

    Since my case is singular, it might be dismissed, but if it happened to me it could happen to you, or maybe to someone else.

    I registered to vote, and had voted in the past—Clifford R Krieger.

    My son moves here for work and registers to vote via mail—Clifford R R Krieger

    I show up first on election day.  There is only one of us listed on the roles.

    What happened to the other person?  Why was my son not offered a provisional ballot when he went down to City Hall after not being allowed to vote?  He was very unhappy,  Moved to California.

    There are problems out there across the fruited plain.  And I am with Kad on the value of showing an ID.  I am absolutely against a national ID.  A drivers license should be good enough.  And, if one doesn’t drive, a Mass ID.

    In fact, I wonder if people without a Mass ID might not be in need of some civic education to allow them to understand the value of an ID and the benefits it provides.  What might they be missing?

    As for George DeLuca’s comments, I am concerned about what I see as a lack of racial diversity in elected office, but I don’t think that anything is solved by going for equal representation in all city offices.  “In Lowell, we need to ensure that the political structure of all elected and appointed entities; as well as the public workforce working under the City Manager and School Committee reflect the demographis of the City.”

    But, it is FUNDAMENTAL that all groups get a shot at voting.  Then they can make up their own minds as to who to vote for.

    More concerning to me is a lack of diversity in point of view.  As Greg Page has on his EMail—”If everyone is thinking alike, someone is not thinking.”

    If voting is a right of citizenship, and a duty of citizenship, it is time to take it seriously.  It is time to expect citizens to be responsible in their voting.

    For example, the “hanging chads” seems an example of lack of responsibility.  I voted in a number of Orange County, California, elections from my kitchen table in Italy or Germany or Alaska or the Philippines or wherever.  Before I mailed off the ballot I made sure there were no “hanging chads”.  Is that asking too much of my fellow citizens?  We need to be responsible custodians of our own rights and privileges.

    Regards  —  Cliff

  20. George DeLuca says:

    Cliff Krieger said:
    ” … I am concerned about what I see as a lack of racial diversity in elected office, but I don’t think that anything is solved by going for equal representation in all city offices.”

    You’ve completely missed the mark with your conclusion. Your comment is misleading and devoid of my writing’s clearly stated context including a recommended reading as a reference. Did you read the book?

    Do you consider women a “racial” category, or even a demographic? Please expand upon your comments about the “… lack of racial diversity …” relative to progressing the social, political and economic goals of the City of Lowell.

  21. C R Krieger says:

    Re George’s comment, I see the lack of racial diversity as an indication that the melting pot is not doing its job and more needs to be done to ensure equal opportunity for all growing up in our Fair City or moving here.  But, I am not interested in quotas.  Where I (sometimes) work people from the Lowell Cambodian-American community have become part of the HR and Finance Departments, but not parts of the Training Analysis (to include software development) area where I work.  I see that as a bad indicator, but not a reason for mandates.  Women were mentioned by George DeLuca.  Yes, we have women, including a key program manager.  (A psych major from UMass Amherst running a software development program.)

    We need diversity, but people must be free to make their own choices.  As citizens we need to clear barriers and provide education and training and then get out of the way.

    Regards  —  Cliff

  22. George DeLuca says:

    I’m sorry Cliff, but I’m not clear on your point or how it pertains to me that you need to use my name to make it. I haven’t represented myself to be a proponent of quotas or mandates as you seem to imply.

    I’m accessible offline, if you want to meet sometime to chat. Otherwise I prefer not to carry on discussions on blogs. Meetings can be set up via social media, but the best way to have a discussion is in person. Of all the clubs in the bag, a face-to-face exchange of ideas is the driver. Blogs are better for chip and putt.

  23. Joe S says:

    The Cliff/George exchange may be an indication of how the voting process can exclude minorities, even if those minorities would vote in the same percentages as the majority. For example, with our City Council the majority can elect 9 members of their choosing, while the minorities by their very nature do not have enough votes to overcome the majority numbers.

    It is only because the majority is not homogeneous that the minorities have a shot at getting elected.

  24. C R Krieger says:

    I think George is correct and offer up my EMail as a first step. i am “mbaring” and I am at “mac” decimal “com”.

    Regards  —  Cliff

  25. Robby G. says:

    For what its worth, every time I go to vote I see the list in front of me twice. Once when I check in and second when I check out.

    All do respect to the elderly folks working there, (I give them all the credit in the world for volunteering) my 23 year old eyes have seen at least 2 dozen other peoples names and address’s before they even find me and check me off.

    If I really wanted to, I could go home, change, and walk right back in pretending to be one of those people. They wouldn’t be the wiser. One probably would not even have to change. Ten people doing this together 5 times equals 50 fraudulent votes.

    Given that, at least for local elections, turnout is usually pathetic (20%?) there is really close to an 80 percent chance of someone doing this without the other person even having a clue!

  26. Robby G. says:

    For the record, I have NEVER done any of the above!

    Just pointing out a possible scenario that COULD happen.

    Who knows? Someone could have already done it by now.

    While I do see some concerns showing ID to vote, we have got to come with some way to identify yourself. Stolen identity is a growing crime and although its usually more associated with financial affairs, it could very well already be an issue during voting.

  27. Bob Forrant says:

    In the nineteenth century political bosses had folks vote twice all the time. With a beard in the AM and clean shaven in the afternoon! It was how ward bosses kept the graft and jobs favors rolling!