Republican party officials and elected officials use bogus claims of vote fraud to do three things: 1) to stymie voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote efforts in poor and minority neighborhoods, 2) purge voter rolls of legitimate voters and 3) institute voter ID laws aimed at making it harder for low-income and minority voters to vote.
Remember, lower income and minority voters, especially in targeted areas, tend to vote overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates. The goal is to sway elections towards Republican candidates by discouraging or preventing as many Democratic supporters as possible.
Now, if voter fraud were pervasive, it might be reasonable for Republicans to spearhead efforts to crack down on the practice, using tough voting laws that would cut down on voter fraud. Only there's little or no evidence of any voter fraud, let alone concerted and organized efforts to throw over elections with fraudulently cast votes:
Although Republican activists have repeatedly said fraud is so widespread that it has corrupted the political process and, possibly, cost the party election victories, about 120 people have been charged and 86 convicted as of last year.
Most of those charged have been Democrats, voting records show. Many of those charged by the Justice Department appear to have mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules, a review of court records and interviews with prosecutors and defense lawyers show.
"There was nothing that we uncovered that suggested some sort of concerted effort to tilt the election," Richard G. Frohling, an assistant United States attorney in Milwaukee, said.
Richard L. Hasen, an expert in election law at the Loyola Law School, agreed, saying: "If they found a single case of a conspiracy to affect the outcome of a Congressional election or a statewide election, that would be significant. But what we see is isolated, small-scale activities that often have not shown any kind of criminal intent."
If you read the report, you'll see that most of the voter fraud convictions were made against voters who made mistakes on their voter registration cards, or weren't aware they were unable to vote. And this was the result of the Republican administration making voter fraud a top priority of the Department of Justice. That is, no expense was spared, no amount of manpower wasted in investigating and prosecuting voter fraud cases. Given the result - virtually no fraud found - no wonder judges were "baffled" by the weak cases brought before their courts.
As for the efforts Marshall lists? Attacking voter registration efforts, purging legitimate voters from voter rolls, and instituting laws making it harder to vote? Have Republicans done these things?
You bet they have.
For attacking voter registration efforts, look no further than Kansas City attorney, Bradley Schlozman's indictments brought against four voter registration organizers, five days before the heated 2006 election featuring Claire McCaskill and Jim Talent. (You may remember Schlozman as the guy who fired minority women lawyers and replaced them with good Americans," as Schlozman called them -- white, Christian men.) Not only did bringing election-related indictments before the election violate at least 35 years of DoJ tradition and the DoJ manual, the indictments were obviously rushed (one of them against the wrong person), and the case weak:
The former U.S. Attorney for Little Rock Bud Cummins told Salon that in cases like this, the fraud is perpetrated upon [the voter registration organization], not by them. The organizers forge registrations in order to justify their $8.00/hour wages. Elyshya Miller, the organizer from ACORN, explained to me that the group frequently hires people who are in "desperate situations," who "really need something at the time."
Schlozman's cases, the Times reported, were "similar to one that [former U.S. Attorney for New Mexico David] Iglesias had declined to prosecute, saying he saw no intent to influence the outcome of an election."
(Here's another example of how illusory voter fraud played out in Wisconsin during the 2006 election.)
The GOP efforts to purge voters from the rolls is more well-known. There is, of course, the 2000 election in Florida when Katherine Harris (remember her?) added more than 50,000 names, mostly of African-American voters, to the "scrub" list, accusing them of being ex-felons, and thereby not allowed to vote under Florida law. Some 90 percent of the list were legitimate voters.
And in 2004, Karl Rove aide, Tim Griffin (later appointed US attorney), was involved in a "voter caging" operation in Florida, in which "do not forward" letters were mailed out to African-American neighborhoods. Those that were sent back were used as evidence to strike voters from the rolls for falsifying addresses. Only those that were affected were mostly the homeless, students, and soldiers. The same trick was tried, unsuccessfully, in Ohio in 2004.
And, of course, there's the conservatives' push for creating requirements for voting, such as voter ID laws or early registration deadlines. The philosophy behind the laws are simple: it would reduce voter fraud. The reality is different: it discourages the poor, the elderly, and minority voters from voting.
At least that's what a federal judge decided when striking down a Georgia law requiring photo identification to vote:
Last week, when issuing the injunction, U.S. District Judge Harold L. Murphy likened the law to a Jim Crow-era poll tax that required residents, most of them black, to pay back taxes before voting. He said the law appeared to violate the Constitution for that reason. In the 2004 election, about 150,000 Georgians voted without producing government-issued identification.
Georgia residents were required to show birth certificates or other documentation and pay a $20 fee in order to receive a valid ID. The law, according to Justice Murphy, violated the Voting Rights Act. Clearly, then, requiring voter IDs does have the same effect as poll taxes and other regressive, racist legislation of the past.
Here in Montana, even a minor change to same-day registration would have had the effect of disenfranchising a number of voters. Montana Headlines:
We are talking about the difference, in Montana, between same-day voter registration and a Republican proposal, supported by Sec.State Brad Johnson, that the registration deadline be set for the previous Friday evening -- that is, 72 hours prior to voting.
Excuse us if we think that crying "disenfranchisement" over a difference of 72 hours seems a little hyperventilatory.
But the idea that any voting registration deadline (much less one that is only 72 hours prior to election day) takes away people's right to vote is a novel one, to say the least.
Given that more than 40 states do not have same-day voter registration, it is clear that most Americans do not believe that anyone is being "disenfranchised" by not having such same-day voter registration.
That's not what Montana's Native American lawmakers think:
Several Indian lawmakers also argued that the [72-hour restriction] bill would put their populations at a disadvantage. More than 840 Indians registered and voted on Election Day last year, they said.
"American Indian people have only been allowed to vote for 82 years. ... We will not disenfranchise people who have been disenfranchised for so long," said Rep. Joey Jayne, D-Arlee.
It's the numbers that jump out at you. Almost 4,000 Montanans turned out to register on Election day, 632 alone in Missoula. A 72-hour waiting period is an arbitrary deadline, especially considering that same-day registration doesn't correlate with an increase in voter fraud, in fact might actually lead to reduced voter fraud if elections officials are properly trained in registering voters. With today's technology, reliable same-day registration is possible.
Some would argue that those who would vote on Election Day aren't informed voters. That's not been my experience. In Missoula, a lot of same-day registrants were students who were engaged with the issues, but moved frequently, or didn't know how to register or where until a canvasser knocked on their door two days before the election. Or newly arrived folks who thought Montana had the same registration restrictions as their former states, and didn't know they could still register to vote. Or people - unlike we Internet political junkies - who only engage with elections a week before the election.
In short, there's no valid, logical reason to favor a 72-hour wait period for registration. The only reason for even a 72-hour period is to prevent the 4,000 voters from casting their votes. That's disenfranchising voters.
Republican operatives don't even believe that voter fraud is costing them elections. Take Royal Masset, the former political director of the Texas Republican party, who explained why his party pursued voter ID laws:
Among Republicans it is an "article of religious faith that voter fraud is causing us to lose elections," Masset said. He doesn't agree with that, but does believe that requiring photo IDs could cause enough of a dropoff in legitimate Democratic voting to add 3 percent to the Republican vote.
So, while Montana Headlines may genuinely believe voter fraud is a problem, it's only a problem in as much the Republican leadership has tried to make it a problem by using fears of it to actually cut into the Democratic vote.
Now, a small-minded conservative might attack me by pointing out that fighting for a broader electorate, I'm pursuing my own political goals of electing more Democrats. It's true that by expanding voting rights to more people, my own ideology benefits. But then one of the bedrock of that ideology is an inherent belief in unlimited universal suffrage. That is, maybe those that are threatened with disenfranchisement by GOP voter fraud machinations vote for Democrats because Democrats want them to vote.