Rage against the voting machine

by Hunter Harris / Beacon Staff • September 4, 2013

I have not forgotten that during the 2012 presidential election, I had to wait in line for nearly four hours to vote.

In the bitter cold, I stood in a long, winding line to exercise my basic constitutional right. I was lucky that a canceled afternoon class allowed me to eventually cast my vote, but there should be a concentrated effort by politicians to ensure that voting is easily accessible to us all. 

Of course, that’s not what has been happening. In many states in the South and Midwest, strict and unnecessary Republican-sponsored voter ID legislation has aimed to disenfranchise and alienate liberal-leaning voters.

Too many Republican leaders, including some in Texas, Kansas, Arizona, Arkansas, Tennessee, and a host of other states, have read inflammatory articles on GOP fan sites like Townhall.com that claim “Obama Likely Won Re-Election Through Election Fraud.” These lawmakers feel Mitt Romney wasn’t elected because millions of Democrats voted often. 

They didn’t. 

And some GOP leaders conceivably read a few of the impossible-to-confirm reports of buses full of foreigners attempting to cast votes (presumably for their Democratic antagonists), and have concluded that voter fraud is sweeping the nation. 

It’s not.

Voter fraud is so unlikely that an ongoing study produced by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law found that an American is more likely to win the lottery than to commit voter fraud. A separate entry in the same NYU study explains that not only is the Republican-described incarnation of voter fraud rare, but “much of the problems associated with alleged fraud in elections relates to unintentional mistakes by voters or election administrators.” 

Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalism site ProPublica cited a New York Times article that discovered “120 cases [of voter fraud] filed by the Justice Department over five years,” only 86 of which resulted in convictions. Even esteemed Republican Colin Powell expressed condemnation for the state’s newly-passed legislation, and expressed little faith in the measure’s motives. At the CEO Forum in Raleigh, North Carolina, he remarked, “You can say what you like, but there is no voter fraud. How can it be widespread and undetected?”

And that’s the thing: Conservative legislation espousing the intent to combat these rare cases only serves to disproportionately affect those less likely to vote for their party’s candidates.

Disenfranchisement, a word used to describe the Grandfather clause (a nineteenth-century provision used to disallow freed African-Americans from voting in the South), is not an antiquated phenomenon. These recent efforts across the South and Midwest to pass or bolster controversial voter ID laws only serve to promulgate the disenfranchisement of students, the elderly, minorities, and members of the lower and middle classes. 

North Carolina governor Pat McCrory described HB 589, a piece of legislation he signed into law in mid-August, as “a common sense law that requires voters to present photo identification in order to cast a ballot” that would minimize “bureaucratic burden[s].” 

But it only serves to maximize them: McCrory’s measure prohibits polling places from extending hours due to long lines, eliminates pre-registration for 16-and 17-year-olds, and outlaws paid voting registration drives and provisional voting if the voter goes to the wrong precinct.

An unengaged, uninformed, non-voting populace is a much more present threat than a handful of cases of voter fraud. As an African-American woman under 21, my right to vote was hard fought: Four separate constitutional amendments (the 15th, 19th, 24th, and 25th) secure my ability to cast a ballot for the office of the President of the United States without paying a poll tax. 

Voting isn’t an inalienable right that should be made harder to practice.