Mittwoch, 2. November 2016

Voter Fraud Versus Voter Suppression

While the presidential election 2016 is underway, we are again hearing much about voters committing election fraud. Significant number of illegal immigrants are allegedly going to turn out to vote, and eligible Americans are going to cast more than one ballot. This is supposedly going to happen in such high numbers that the fraudulent voters will decide the election.

Irrational claims mainly made by Republicans — as a high voter turnout generally benefits the Democrats — about voter fraud have been a part of the presidential election discourse in this country since the “motor voter” law in 1993, even though countless credible research and government investigations show that voter fraud only happens in negligible numbers.

This is also logical, because there is little incentive for the crime while the punishment is severe: under federal law, people risk five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Naturally, in a county with over 200 million registered voters, some fraud is statistically going to happen. But, in general, voter fraud is an unrealistic crime, as for such a premeditated crime to occur, there has to be a significant incentive, a meaningful personal, financial or (perceived) psychological gain.

Hardly any voter in their healthy mind would consider committing a serious crime where the intended outcome of their action — to influence the election — is not even remotely guaranteed.

While intentional voter fraud committed by voters are rare, clerical and other honest errors and inaccuracies such as dead individuals remaining in the databases, are more likely to occur. However they too are blown out of proportion in this conversation.

Given the high number of people voter databases capture and the changes that happen in people’s lives, the databases by nature are subject to continuous changes. Meaning, at any given point in time, there is going to be a need to update these databases.

Let us now demystify some of the scenarios that are apparently causing Republicans the most serious headaches:

Ineligible/non-citizens voting

Legal and illegal residents who are not eligible to vote have the least incentive to commit voter fraud. Here is why:

Illegal immigrants: Registering to vote requires a valid social security number. Illegal immigrants generally are unable to obtain one legally, except when they receive amnesty.

However, in that case, they are no longer an illegal immigrant. Illegal immigrants can obtain social security numbers illegally; e.g. so that they can work. In that case, they are unlikely to jeopardize that number by voluntarily providing it to a state government and risk getting caught voting.

Legal immigrants: Legal immigrants generally have a social security number, as they are authorized to reside and work in the U.S.

They can easily register to vote, e.g. when applying for a driver’s license, as states generally don’t verify citizenship of the registrants. However, that does not mean legal immigrants are going to register and turn out to vote, because legal immigrants have the least incentive to commit a stupid crime such as voter fraud.

After residing in the U.S. for a certain period of time, they are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship; in which case they have to undergo serious background investigations. Legal immigrants are very unlikely to jeopardize such prospects “just” to cast a ballot.

Paid to vote more than once

Paying voters to vote more than once can happen, but that too is a stupid crime to commit. Because the individuals who would pay voters to commit the crime, would not only be making accomplices, they would not even be able to verify if the voters did what they were supposed to do; because with the exception of some states that allow voters to take pictures of their ballots, there is no way of proving how a voter voted.

Voting in more than one state

Eligible voters can easily register to vote in more than one state.

However, registering to vote in more than one state is not a crime, as it can easily happen when people are moving around; but voting in more than one state is. Moreover, many states have joined cross check database systems such as the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) or the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program which allow for catching voters who are attempting to vote in more than one state.

Voting more than once in the same state 

In compliance with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, most states have established statewide voter registration databases. Voters attempting to vote more than once in the same state can easily be detected.

Representatives of various organizations committing registration fraud

In the past, representatives of various interest groups attempted to register non-existent voters; another thoughtless and unrealistic crime with serious consequences, as in the recent case of a Virginia man.

After successfully registering imaginary voters with a valid social security number, the perpetrator needs to come up with picture IDs and cast ballots without being caught; even if the perpetrator attempts to vote absentee. As first time absentee voters in many states, including Virginia, are required to present a valid ID.

The real election challenge — a history of suppressing African American voices

Republicans who are allegedly committed to the integrity of the elections while happy to invest disproportional amounts of resources to chase ghosts of voters committing voter fraud, they seem to not have a problem with voter suppression.

Consider the case of North Carolina where a federal appeals court struck down a voter ID law, because Republican-controlled general assembly — instead of hoping that their strategies indirectly affect minorities, as customary — actively requested data on voters’ use of various voting practices by race and amended the voter ID bill according to the information at hand to suppress minority votes.

Even though women could not vote until the 1920s and Hispanic voters are also targeted by voter suppression efforts, no group has more precisely been targeted than African Americans. It is clear that the many attempts to correct the wrong (14th Amendment, 15th Amendment, Voting Rights Act etc.) could not eradicate the deeply rooted notions for inequality in this country.

If nothing else, the senseless claims about voter fraud teach us something very important: Our struggles for equal rights continue in the 21st century.

Ms. Dudek is a German-American researcher, analyst, writer, and an experienced Election Officer. She has actively campaigned for many progressive candidates in Michigan and pursued public office in Washington, D.C. in 2010. She regularly contributes to U.S. and German sources such as the Huffington Post and Migazin. A Boren Forum alumna, Ms. Dudek received The National Security Education Program (NSEP) award in 2014.

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