Voting is an integral part of the democratic process. Indeed, inherent in the concept of self-government is the ability of members of a democratic state to elect representatives to make decisions on their behalf.
In our republican form of government, power ultimately resides with the people. Voting is the exercise of a right that serves as the sustaining force in the perpetuation of our system of government.
Thankfully, this very important and fundamental exercise by the citizens of our republic is one that is not pervasively impacted or undermined by abuse and fraud.
Voter fraud, the intentional corruption of the electoral process by a voter who knowingly and willingly gives false information to establish voter eligibility, and/or knowingly and willingly votes illegally or participates in a conspiracy to encourage illegal voting by others, is not common in U.S. elections.
Though accusations of fraud are plentiful, actual, verifiable, prosecutable instances are not. Voter fraud does indeed happen, but it is not systemic or pervasive.
In last year’s U.S. Senate special election in Alabama, voter fraud claims became front and center after Doug Jones bested Roy Moore. After his loss, Moore filed a lawsuit claiming “systemic election fraud,” which he asserted was largely responsible for his defeat.
Moore alleged, among other things, that three vanloads of Mexicans were brought into the state, five busloads of African-Americans were brought into Mobile to vote, people came from outside the state to vote and substantial “irregularities” existed in 20 Jefferson County voting precincts.
Though Moore’s lawsuit was later thrown out and the election results were certified by state officials, it didn’t stop Moore from insisting, and others believing, “Election fraud experts across the country have agreed that this was a fraudulent election.”
Moore’s unsubstantiated and false claims of widespread and persistent voter fraud echo an increasingly familiar narrative of claims that isn’t supported by reality.
However, placed in historical context, claims of pervasive and widespread voter fraud are nothing new, nor are the outcomes such claims can lead to.
In the post-Reconstruction South, the majority of blacks saw their right to vote curtailed and suppressed in the name of election integrity. Given the right to vote by the 15th Amendment, blacks had become a formidable electoral force. However, as Southern states were “redeemed,” state after state enacted restrictive measures to make it extremely difficult for blacks to vote. Ostensibly, one of the main reasons given for these measures was to curtail voter fraud and ensure a credible and pure election process uncorrupted by black voters.
It would take many decades and the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to tear down these odious edifices that were put in place to restrict voting access and participation.
In 2013, the Supreme Court noted it was time for a change when it came to the Voting Rights Act. Writing for the majority in its Shelby County vs. Holder decision, Chief Justice John Roberts said aspects of the historic law had lost their relevance and that things weren’t as they used to be. In other words, unlike when the law was put in place, state leaders can be trusted to not enact barriers and devise ways to stifle voter access and the turnout of historically marginalized voters as their predecessors had in times past.
Thus “preclearance” — the requirement in the Voting Rights Act that 16 states with a history of voting discrimination and low voter turnout must have the Department of Justice or a federal court ”preclear” changes involving “any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice or procedure with respect to voting …” — was no more. Changes could now be made without prior federal approval.
Loud cries of voter fraud have re-emerged, and so have state measures that hinder and suppress turnout.
In a “Back to the Future”-type situation, those historically alleged to have engaged in voter fraud or who were the reason for such laws being enacted — immigrants, minorities and the poor — are again finding themselves as reasons for the enactment of draconian voter ID laws.
Yet what is urgently needed is energy and effort put into increasing access and turnout, not depressing or restricting it. Although the U.S. is the world’s oldest democracy, we don’t lead other democracies in voter turnout. As a matter of fact, we lag behind.
As many know, the 2018 midterm election is Tuesday, Nov. 6. Although there has been much talk and newsprint devoted to the election and its ramifications, historically only around 40 percent of eligible Americans vote during the midterms. During a presidential election the number goes up to around 60 percent, but that still means almost 40 percent of eligible Americans aren’t participating in this crucial democratic process.
Although Alabama does have online voter registration, it doesn’t permit crucial things such as same-day registration, automatic voter registration, early voting or no-excuse absentee voting (which allows any registered voter to request an absentee ballot without requiring the voter to state a reason for his/her desire to vote absentee).
Again, the goal should not be restricting access and turnout but encouraging it. State leaders should prioritize facilitating ease and accommodation in the registration and voting process, not ways to limit them. This can be done while still maintaining the integrity of the electoral process. It’s not an either/or situation.
No case of voter fraud is a small thing. But the notion that our system is infected with widespread and extensive fraud does not square with the facts. A state-by-state examination shows that in-person voter fraud in America is a rare occurrence. As far as noncitizens voting in elections, the Center for Election Innovation and Research noted rather succinctly “a person is more likely to be eaten by a shark that simultaneously gets hit by lightning than to find a noncitizen voting.”
When it comes to voting, let’s focus on the real problem: participation and access.
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