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Friday, December 19, 2008

Scam Artists

Posted By on Fri, Dec 19, 2008 at 11:30 AM

There's been some buzz lately about Pennsylvania adopting "early voting" procedures in future elections. In other states, such procedures -- which include measures like making it easier to vote by absentee ballot -- reduced long lines in the 2008 election.

The advantage of early voting: It makes it easier for hard-working family-raising Americans, to get to the polls. 

So of course, the party of "family values" opposes it. 

I've been getting a trickle of statements from Republicans opposing early-voting reforms. Among them are these insights from Stan Saylor of York, the chair of the Republican Policy Committee: 

"We have election fraud constantly taking place. And we in Pennsylvania, particularly in the Republican Party have been advocating for years that we need to reform the election process. While early voting sounds great, until you reform the process and take out the corruption that's there now, it's tough to trust the idea of early voting and who's going to make sure that the ballots that are being cast are being cast by the actual people that are registered to vote."

And of course, I've also heard from the Pride of Cranberry, Daryl Metcalfe: 

"The effort by some of my colleagues to push early voting in Pennsylvania as some other states have done, really brings up that phrase that we've heard so often over the years of "vote early vote often." ... And I think the most important thing that we have to do as state legislators is to insure that the process is one that has as many protections as possible against fraudulent votes being cast." 

What's surprising about these statements is that they allege sweeping corruption without citing a single concrete example. If Republicans are aware of cases in which people "voted often," shouldn't someone have filed charges? Or at least a press release?

I'll open it to the floor. Can someone tell me, please, about this election fraud "constantly" taking place in Pennsylvania? Or even that took place this year? Anyone?

For that matter, how many allegations of voter fraud have there been in OTHER states, states where they have early voting? 

I'm talking about bona fide election fraud here, in which somebody showed up at the polls to vote more than once, or to vote under a name other than their own. You get no credit for citing accusations against ACORN -- all of which predate Election Day, to the best of my knowledge. It's clear that some signature-gatherers paid by ACORN padded their paychecks by registering imaginary voters. But I'm not aware of a single case in which an imaginary voter actually appeared at the poll. And as I've argued before, there's a real difference between making up false names on a form, and actually trying to vote under that name. Only the latter threatens the outcome of an election. 

And let's say, just for the sake of argument, that we could find a handful of Mickey Mouses who showed up at the polls this year. As we ponder our approach to elections, wouldn't it worth putting those incidents of fraud in some context? When we contemplate taking measures to restrict access to the polls, shouldn't we weigh the danger of fraud against the danger of driving away legitimate voters? 

Because that danger is at least as real as the threat of fraud. Consider, for example, this finding conducted by the Census Bureau after the 1996 elections. Of the people who didn't vote that year, more than one out of five said "they could not take time off from work or school or were too busy to vote."

For all we know, of course, many of these folks were just making excuses. But let's assume at least some of those people are telling the truth ... and that some of those would vote if they had more than just a single day to work with. If early voting made it possible for an extra, say, 5,000 people to vote in Pennsylvania elections next year, would that be worth the risk of encouraging, say, an extra 10 fraudulent votes? Wouldn't such a system be a more accurate reflection of the public's will than a system in which those 5,010 votes were never cast?

To be honest, I'm not entirely comfortable with that sort of math. But Republicans ought to be, because they do just this sort of algebra all the time.

They were, after all, willing to deregulate financial markets -- putting our retirement funds at risk -- in the theory that while this may make fraud easier, the "invisible hand" of the market would eventually weed the bad guys out. Earlier this year, meanwhile, the Bush Administration recalculated the cost/benefits analysis of environmental regulations. The EPA decided that when it comes to passing new laws to protect us, a human life was actually worth $1 million less than previously assumed. That means that, when we have to choose between costly regulation and protecting human life, the scale is now tipped in favor of pollution. So much for life being sacred. 

So in the name of economic growth, the GOP will put flesh-and-blood humans at risk of death ... but they aren't willing to take a chance on letting more of those humans vote. Because of the supposed danger that a handful of fictitious humans will vote as well.

To me, though, it's obvious what's going on here. The GOP isn't really afraid of more fake people voting. They're afraid of more real people voting. Conservatives have straight-up acknowledged that "[e]xpanding voter turnout is key to Democrats." Which means that suppressing voter turnout is key to Republicans.

And that, I think, is the real crime taking place here. 

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