Eugene Robinson Live: Republicans and the "Widespread Voter Fraud" myth

May 01, 2012

Eugene Robinson chatted about his columns and the latest in political news.

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I am curious. It seems that you see nothing wrong with noncitizens voting. Voter ID is a quick and simple method of preventing illegal voting. I had to show my voter ID recently before I could vote in a primary election and I am a Caucasian.

Of course I don't want noncitizens to vote. But they wouldn't be on the voter rolls, would they? They would have to vote in the names of registered citizens, and if this were happening we'd know about it, because those citizens would show up to vote and be told that they'd already cast ballots. That would be voter fraud. Tell me where it's happening.

Hello, everyone, and welcome. I'm going to try to get through the whole hour without bad puns about dog meat or dogs riding on the roofs of cars, but it'll be ruff -- ooops, didn't even make it through the intro. Today's column was about voter ID laws, which I see as a GOP attempt to disenfranchise a bunch of anti-GOP voters. Let's begin.

That was an excellent column on voter ID laws today! If I could, I would like to add a couple of points on how onerous and even racist voter ID laws have become. First, most states require that one has a birth certficiate before obtaining a state ID card. Many states require a substantial fee before they can release a birth certificate can be released. Now, here is when the process becomes onerous: some states require a state ID for a birth certificate but one cannot get a birth certificate without a state ID! It's a Catch-22 situation. Now, here is when the process becomes racist especially for older black people. In most states, during the Jim Crow era, because at the time, unfortunately, black people were considered "inferior" and not even given a birth certificate. So, yes, indeed, voter ID laws do harken back to the Jim Crow days. This is really a sneaky way of bringing back Jim Crow laws (as far as the right to vote). What perplexes me is why this has not been ruled illegal. Oh, yes. I forgot. 5-4. Thank you for listening.

Thanks so much.You raise great points. I crammed as much as I could into the column, but I'll be writing more about this issue in the coming weeks and months. It's a serious issue.

Today's column is woefully incomplete, for it failed to mention the recent Supreme Court decision (6-3, by Stevens, not a conservative, Eugene) in Crawford v. Marion County. The Court wrote, "But if a nondiscriminatory law [meaning it applies to everyone, Eugene] is supported by valid neutral justifications [deterring voter fraud being one, the Court found], those justifications should not be disregarded simply because partisan interests may have provided one motivation for the votes of individual legislators." How did you miss that decision in all your research, Eugene?

What I'm challenging is your assertion that these voter ID laws are nondiscriminatory and justified. I disagree on both counts. They have discriminatory impact on young people and minorities, and they are not justified because they are "solving" a problem that doesn't exist. 

The Carter-Baker Report on federal electoral reform said, "Photo identification cards currently are needed to board a plane, enter federal buildings, and cash a check. Voting is equally important." Cited, by the way, by the Supreme Court in Crawford v. Marion County (opinion by Stevens, not one of the conservatives) in support of a holding that Indiana's photo ID law was not constitutionally invalid. Why did you not note Carter's view?

Because I don't agree with it. I write an opinion column. I try to look at a question from all sides and decide what I think. I don't try to convince readers of points of view that I think are wrong.

Sorry, but I don't buy the poverty or minority argument. Is there anywhere else in the democratic world where IDs aren't a requirement to vote? In some countries they even ask for proof of military service beside an ID. They don't care if you're rich or poor or what color you are. No ID, no vote. Period. Be responsible. As a side note, I find it amusing that when articles about minorities are written, Asians are excluded most of the time. Even the recently fashionable "white Hispanics."

Hold it, you want to hold the United States to the standards of other democratic industrialized countries? Great, then let's have universal health care, sensible gun control, a huge cut in military spending... It's interesting that conservatives who bristle when comparisons are made to other countries on any other issue rush to become internationalists where voter ID is concerned.

Eugene, If cigarettes and alcoholic drinks were offered to a black person in exchange for a vote would this constitute voter fraud? Your buddy Sharpton knows what I am referring to.

Thank you for giving everyone a glimpse of the kinds of attitudes that the voter ID movement might not want displayed.

I was wondering about your opinion on exit polls. I read years ago that Kerry won Ohio in 2004 according to the exit polls, but the state went to Bush along with his reelection. The real 'voter fraud' would have taken place in the ballot boxes or in the hacked voting machines. The last time I voted, the black man in front of me was asked for an ID before he was allowed to vote. I was not. I am 25% native American, but look caucasian. That incident actually disturbed me. I live only 75 miles from Washington, D.C..

Interesting anecdote. I hope the man in line ahead of you finally got to cast his ballot. As for exit polls, they are useful but certainly not definitive. They can be wrong, as in Ohio in 2004.

Do you think it is ok for someone to be able to enter a voter location and take a ballot for say Eric Holder without id and place a vote in his place?

You're referring to that stunt by a publicity-seeking right-wing provocateur who doesn't deserve to have his name mentioned here. I think it's a riot that being unable to find voter fraud, the far right feels compelled to commit it. And I think he ought to go to jail. As Baretta used to say, "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time."

I will take at face value your assertion that Republicans are seeking to disenfranchise Democratic voters. And that voter fraud is non-existent. Though on that, surely it could happen. But anyway ... we have to have IDs for SO many things in life today, and doesn't it make sense to require it to vote? Isn't there a way to safeguard it so it minimizes the disenfranchisement and maximizes the protection of the ballot? Or would you just rather have this as another reason to say the GOP is racist?

Eleven percent of U.S. adults do not have a government-issued photo ID. If there were a problem with voter fraud, I'd say sure, let's see how we can solve the problem while minimizing the effect of disenfranchisement. But first, show me the problem that voter ID would solve.

The most recent example is Al Franken...where in some counties more people voted then lived there. Gov. Gregoir in Wash state is another example. I remember when she was elected, and more people voted for her in some counties than were registered to vote. Just because it benefits your side, you should still care. Vote early and often isn't a solution to free elections. You cant get a bank account, credit card, apartment, medicine, bus pass, etc. without an ID. Yet, you can vote. The left likes to say it will cause a burden on people and will disenfranchise, which I cant see considering all the things you need an ID for in this country. Democrats use these examples to continue the fraud. Just because it has benefited Dems, you should still care!

I don't believe your examples are valid, but let's assume they are. Voter ID would not have made an iota of difference. I repeat: voter ID would do nothing to hamper or deter election officials who choose to count more votes in a jurisdiction than the number of people who live there. Voter ID would only address situations in which someone comes into a polling place, falsely claims to be a voter who is registered to vote there, and is allowed to cast a ballot. That's all. This kind of fraud is conceivable, but it doesn't happen. It's not a problem.

Even if it did exist, this would be an extremely inefficient way to swing an election. Think of how many people would need to be mobilized and managed to even have a statistical dent in the voting numbers. It's also self-defeating... if that many people were involved, the story would come out.

Right. If you wanted to fix an election, it seems to me, you'd do it in the counting process. Much more efficient.

In 2008 Obama campaigned in positive and inclusive terms (or at least that was the image his campaign sought to project, even if reality was a little more complicated). After he was elected, he tried to be bipartisan. More than a lot of his supporters would have probably preferred. But now, in the 2012 campaign, even he's ahead in most polls and Romney doesn't even officially have the nomination, Obama's team hitting him early and hard. To the point, in the case of the bin Laden ad, that a risk of backlash has to be considered. Why are they taking this approach, especially so early? Is it wise?

I think the White House believes this will be a close election no matter what, and I think the Obama campaign would like to make this a referendum on Romney rather than on "are you better off than four years ago?"

If all these people want photo IDs to be required, then they should also be in favor of people being issued free photo IDs when they register to vote. And as a "white Hispanic" I take offense to the idea that my skin color, combined with my ethnic background, makes me "fashionable" like a trendy new dog breed that nobody's ever heard of until now.

Good idea. And, duly noted.

Democracy only works if the people vote. The problem in the US isn't that too many people cast fraudulent ballots. The problem is that not enough people register and vote. In Australia, voting is MANDATORY for all citizens (although you are allowed to "spoil" your ballot) and you're fined if you fail to vote without a valid reason. In the US, we make it hard to register and vote. This makes no sense to me.

I've covered elections in countries where voting is mandatory. The thing is, in the United States we don't do "mandatory" very well. But you're absolutely right that the problem is lack of participation, not that people are casting fraudulent votes.

You claim that 11% of Americans don't have ID. Where did this "statistic" come from? ("It's my opinion" won't work as an answer to this one). Also, if illegal voting doesn't exist, why does the American Immigration Lawyers Association specifically cite it in their orientation materials for the N-400 interview? (And these constant refrains of "you can't prove it exists because we haven't looked for it" are eerily reminiscent of the Catholic Church, circa 1995)

I got that figure from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. And again, if the best evidence for voter fraud you can find is a PowerPoint presentation, you haven't demonstrated that there is a problem. All these fraudulent voters are so diabolically clever that they never get caught? More to the point: the whole right-wing media-political establishment scours the country for evidence of voter fraud and, gulp, can't find any?

I bet a lot of the people who support voter ID laws are the same ones incensed at the idea that one has to show an ID to buy a gun.

I'll bet you're right.

I think it's interesting that for all the blathering that goes on about "cracking down on voter fraud," there really has NOT been an open-and-shut provable case of this happening out there. Even the advocates for all of these laws, when pressed, admit that they don't have hard evidence that this is an epidemic problem. The broader issue, in fact, may be who is being disenfranchised by all of these requirements for having photo ID when going to the booth -- it would seem to me that the most logical ones are senior citizens, precisely the audience that actually turns out to vote the most. Or maybe I am missing something? Has anyone done any comprehensive analysis on this?

The Brennan Center has done a lot of research on the issue, including a look at the potential impact.

What's interesting is the Republican populace keeps conflating registering to vote with actual voter fraud. They don't seem to understand that a voter registration group cannot screen registrations -- by law. They have to turn it in even if Mickey Mouse registers. It's up to the supervisor of elections to determine whether the registration is valid -- as it should be. Do we want partisan groups throwing out voter registration forms for the opposing party? That's why we have that law!

Correct. And if there's one thing I hope people come to realize, it's that voter ID laws would have no impact on the "examples" of alleged voter fraud cited by many on the right. Rather, it would address a method of fraud that no reasonably intelligent fraudster would employ -- and, in the process, bar or discourage many voters from exercising the franchise.

Everyone I have talked to who is in favor of picture ID requirements sooner or later admits that they don't think everyone should vote - that they think many people are too uneducated or ill-informed and should not vote. That is the true sentiment behind these laws.

You're right. Universal suffrage can be so cruel...


...and so can the passage of time, folks. Mine is up, at least for today. Thanks for a good discussion, and please join me again next week. Oh, and vote early and often!

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Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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