Vote Fraud is a Venerable Tradition

Barack Obama accuses Republicans of threatening the right to vote.  Standing alongside Al Sharpton -- the FBI snitch who aided Tawana Brawley’s hoax and probably sparked an anti-Semitic riot, Obama spoke before Sharpton’s National Action Network.  Obama allegedly said, “[t]he right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago.”  He also declared that, “[a]cross the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, to vote.”

What are those rascally Republicans doing?  Efforts to require photo IDs in order to vote are probably uppermost in Obama’s mind.  He might also have been thinking about moves to limit the times polls are open, cut back on early voting, especially on weekends, curtail the mailing of absentee ballots, and require proof of citizenship in order to vote.

These and other changes to American voting practices are anathema to Democrats, who claim they are efforts to suppress voting by minorities and the poor.

(Four things should be noted about statutes requiring photo IDs to vote.  First, the Supreme Court, in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 553 U.S. 181 [2008], ruled that Indiana’s photo ID law is constitutional.  Second, and perhaps equally important, turnout rose among blacks and Hispanics after Georgia enacted a photo ID law.  Third, polls show that laws requiring photo IDs to vote are popular, even among minorities.  Fourth, people need photo IDs to cash checks, get on airliners, and be admitted to the White House.)

It is not surprising that Democrats and Republicans are at loggerheads over virtually any proposal that affects voting.  America makes greater use of elections than every other nation.  Americans use elections to select public officials from local magistrates to president.  Many states employ elections -- initiatives and referenda -- to allow ordinary people to propose and enact legislation.  Some states even use elections -- recall -- to undo elections.

Since elections are equated with democracy’s quality, it is understandable that any efforts to finagle their outcomes, such as fraudulent voting, are extremely worrisome.

Concern about the integrity of U.S. elections has a long and honorable history.

One consequence of cities’ growth in the late19th century was the rise of political machines, which often used “voting the graveyard” and “repeaters” to stuff ballot boxes on Election Day.  “Voting the graveyard” is self-explanatory.  “Repeaters” were gangs of young men, recruited out of flop houses and the tenements, who for either an emolument or free grog, would travel around the city on Election Day casting repeat ballots in each precinct.

Those practices were not unknown in rural areas.

Both practices are still used today.

The primary means to eliminate, or at least reduce, these forms of fraudulent voting was to require registration in advance of Election Day.

Although registration statutes varied from state to state, the idea behind registration was to require a prospective voter to get his -- later, her -- name on an official list prepared by a county registrar.  Then, before a person could cast a vote, his -- later, her -- name had to be on the official list of legal registrants.

On Election Day, a citizen appeared at a polling place, and if her/his name was on the official list of registered voters, a poll worker handed her/him a ballot.  Otherwise, the person could not vote.

Registration had several features.  Most states closed registration rolls well in advance of Election Day.  (Since the process was done by hand, it took time to prepare lists to transmit from a central registration office to individual precincts.)  Also, in addition to minimal age requirements -- mostly 21 years of age before the XXVIth Amendment was ratified in 1971 -- an individual had to live in the state, the county, and the precinct for specified periods in order to qualify as a legally registered voter.

One consequence of registration requirements was a substantial decline of turnout rates in American elections.  During the last decades of the 19th century, for example, turnout rates were 75-80% of the eligible electorate.  By 1924, however, voter participation had fallen to just under half of the voting-age population.

So much changed in the electorate’s make-up between the end of the 19th century and the mid-1920s -- such as the XIXth Amendment’s ratification in 1920, that any attempt to attribute changes in turnout rates during these years to a specific “reform” such as the registration requirement is bootless.  Nevertheless, a sizable industry in Academe, the mainstream media, and progressive political movements, advances just this argument.

Leftists argue that low turnout rates undermine elected officials’ legitimacy, a case they made especially after 1980, when Ronald Reagan won an election that had a turnout rate of 52.56% of the voting-age population.  The left was strangely quiet, however, after Bill Clinton won the 1996 election when turnout was 49.08% of the VAP.

Sad to say, the left’s notion carried the day for decades, and has had profound ramifications.

Over the last half-century, and especially during the last three decades, changes in American election laws have made it easier to vote.  Many alterations happened in the states, but the federal government has imposed some on states.  Supreme Court decisions required states to ease registration requirements.  About ten states permit “election-day registration.”  A few others allow residents to register by mail.  Oregon’s voters now cast ballots by mail.  Several states have created “windows,” i.e. opportunities to vote in advance of the official Election Day.  It is now much easier to obtain and cast absentee ballots.

The story of the 1965 Voting Rights Act is well known.  What isn’t generally known, however, is that LBJ had to depend on votes from a larger percentage of GOP legislators than from Democrats, many of whom were southern segregationists.

Perhaps the single most significant piece of federal legislation affecting the voting process in the last 25 years is the National Voter Registration Act, aka “Motor Voter,” signed by Bill Clinton in 1993.  “Motor Voter” required states to allow residents to register by mail, or at Bureaus of Motor Vehicles, or at local public offices such as welfare offices, and to cast “provisional” ballots that would become legal once an individual’s registration status was clarified.

As John Fund notes in Stealing Elections (2008), “[p]erhaps no piece of legislation in the last generation better captured the ‘incentivizing’ of fraud and the clash of conflicting visions about the priorities of our election system than the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, commonly known as the ‘Motor Voter Law.’”

Virtually every facet of “Motor Voter” has been employed for voter fraud, especially by über left-wing groups like ACORN.  Sadly, if the former Department of Justice attorney J. Christian Adams, who resigned after Eric Holder’s DOJ refused to prosecute two members of the New Black Panther Party for voter intimidation in Philadelphia, is right, extreme racialists in the Civil Rights Division refuse to engage in race neutral enforcement of the law.

Crying “racism” is intended to thwart any effort to end fraudulent voting.  Republicans will have to screw up their courage if they really want honest election outcomes.

Image credit Lampoon: McAdam/PhotoShop, via the Examiner

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