16 thoughts on “This is not a democracy

  1. It looks like these are decisions by different officials in different counties. Is there any evidence of a conspiracy between counties to do this for the sake of electoral outcome? The article mentions no such evidence and even makes no such assertions without evidence. Even with that, I would call it covert discrimination, not overt. But without it, I don’t even know if you can call accurately call it discrimination. It was dishonest for Republicans to claim that Obama was taking away voting rights from the military by not letting them vote early, and this editorial strikes me as committing the same mistake.

    It’s equally dishonest to say, as the NYT column does, that ending early voting in a particular county is interfering with anyone’s right to vote, even if another county does get the privilege of voting early. I don’t have that privilege in New York. Is that overt discrimination just because Florida gets to vote early?

  2. Re: “When are we going to outlaw this crap?” The kind of discrimination the breathless NYT editorial seems to be alleging is already outlawed. The question is whether the paper correct that this would be a matter of discriminatory infringement of anyone’s rights.

    Is Hamilton County in a different fiscal and budgetary situation than, say, Warren County? The NYT editorialists don’t tell us, and don’t seem very interested in the question. Based solely on the (second-hand) information in this opinion piece, there does not appear to be any basis to rule out the obvious alternative thesis that the push to limit extra pre-election voting hours (which are not constitutionally required in any event) in Hamilton County is rationally defensible on, or at least actually arises from, budgetary grounds.

    I agree with Jeremy that the use of “overt” to refer to something that, even in the event that the paper were otherwise correct, would be better described as “covert”, is odd.

    The column’s allegations bear some looking into. But the column itself is yet more evidence of waning standards at the NYT editorial page.

  3. There is a widespread and unprecedented* pattern of voter suppression that began last year, with measures introduced in 38 US states by August 2011 (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-gop-war-on-voting-20110830). These measures include voter ID laws and purging of the rolls (which often results in the purging of people who are in fact legitimate voters). The former chair of the Republican Party in Florida, Jim Greer, admits that Florida measures have been geared to suppress the black vote, and there is a great deal of evidence that in general such measures will have a vastly disproportionate impact on black citizens (as well as Hispanic, elderly, young and poor citizens). In the context of this pattern, the claim that it’s a mere coincidence that things shook out this way in Ohio appears far less plausible.

    I would also suggest that it is a mistake to think that institutional racism and oppression must inhere in the motives of some individual or group (though there is every reason to think that, as Jim Greer admits, discriminatory motives are in fact present). Even if it were an accident that policies and practices are set up in such a way as to disadvantage members of racial minorities, women, etc., the situation would remain discriminatory.

    *Oops, did I say unprecedented? Actually, it’s not unprecedented at all. Our nation has a long and sordid history of suppressing the black vote through a wide variety of measures including physical violence. In recent decades that suppression has taken the form of disproportionately arresting, convicting and imprisoning black citizens for drug crimes that white citizens commit at equal rates, saddling them with felony convictions, and disenfranchising them from the vote, often for life. See, e.g., Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, and Pamela Karlan’s response to Glenn Loury in Race, Incarceration, and American Values.

  4. More worrying to me are the new Pennsylvania voter ID laws. By some estimates, several hundred thousand people may be surprised to find themselves unable to vote on election day.

  5. Sherri, pace the almost certainly impartial Rolling Stone magazine, the “pattern” of measures allegedly geared to suppress the votes of racial and ethnic minorities is disputable. But even if that weren’t true, how would it reduce the plausibility of a scenario where budget hawks in one county push for limited optional pre-election day voting hours for fiscal reasons, notwithstanding that different officials in a completely independent but neighboring (and very likely more solvent) county have decided to pay for more extensive optional pre-election day voting hours?

    In addition, I think that the statement that “the situation would be discriminatory” even if the allegedly disparate result is an accident needs heavy qualification. Where such results are both unintended *and* caused by non-arbitrary legal or administrative prescriptions, they are *not* discriminatory. At least, they are not discriminatory in the sense usually accorded to that word in U.S. usage and under relevant law.

    ajkreider, hopefully the large PR campaign Pennsylvania has planned will help reduce the element of surprise, but even surprise needn’t have a significant impact in this election, since the Pennsylvania law allows people to cast provisional votes anyway and establish their identity within 6 days after voting (additional accommodations apply for indigent voters). That said, some number of people are always caught unawares by a change in laws or regulations of any sort, in any field. Indeed, when it comes to voting, an old precinct worker once told me that the number of people who get surprised on election day because of a change in polling place since the last time they voted, or because they simply forgot to register or re-register to vote is, well, surprising.

  6. Nemo,

    Can you imagine the firestorm that would result if the presidential election came down to PA and the counting of provisional votes days after the election? Palm Beach, anyone?

    The fact that a republican representative claimed that the passage of the new ID law there would deliver the state for Romney should disturb conservatives and liberals alike.

  7. Keep in mind that those who are saying the law would deliver the state to Romney are saying that not because they think it will prevent legitimate voters from voting for Obama but because they think it will prevent ineligible voters and dead voters from voting for Obama. A lot of people who support voter-ID laws are motivated by their view that ACORN is stealing elections by having dead people and ineligible voters vote illegally. Even if that’s a ridiculous conspiracy theory (as I think it is), it’s what people actually think when they support these laws and say things about how it might help Romney. So I don’t see any huge problem with a politician saying such a thing, given that what’s motivating it is not some underhanded attempt to prevent people of the other party from voting but an attempt to combat what they irrationally see as a barrier to an accurate vote.

  8. Jeremy Pierce, I think we can’t know the motivations of the political operatives who say they are preventing voter fraud with voter id laws and other “restriction” measures. I worry that they say so to gain popular support, but are well aware that voter fraud actually occurs at negligible rates.

  9. There doesn’t seem to me to be any inconsistency between believing (i) that voter fraud/impersonation occurs at statistically negligible rates and (ii) that it is worth combating with voter ID laws. I expect that many people conceive of voter fraud as so distinctly contrary to the public trust in principle that it merits preventive measures (particularly measures that are widely viewed as nominal and have been held by the judiciary not to violate anyone’s rights).

    This kind of instinct does tend to crop up in free societies and manifests itself in a number of ways. For example, I think a similar sentiment underlies an old adage about it being worth spending $10 of public money to root out $1 taken in violation of the public trust (or something to that effect). Or think of how, where certain important rights are involved, the law will assume and grant symbolic damages even if the plaintiff cannot otherwise show harm – sort of a recognition that vindicating the right was important in principle even if the harm was negligible.

    In a similar way, I think there are a great many people who would support voter ID requirements even if they only prevented a handful of instances of voter fraud because they view the symbolic harm as being significant in its own right and they resent it; not necessarily because they think voter fraud materially affects election results in practice.

  10. Nemo, I don’t think anyone is disputing that rooting out voter fraud is good–so, I don’t think your last paragraph does justice to what folks are saying is problematic here. The problem is not the financial costs or the amount of effort expended to prevent voter fraud; the problem is that while shark attacks are more common than voter fraud, we take great efforts to prevent it, and those efforts tend to simultaneously disenfranchises legitimate voters. Emphasis on the last clause.

  11. I had a long drive yesterday and heard a long interview on NPR with the sponsor of the law in PA. I already thought the law was a horrible thing and listening to him talk in circles about it just made me sick.

    He seemed to offer a completely incoherent picture of the problem of voter impersonation fraud and why the law is justified which included all of the following at different points in the interview:

    — Basically admitted that voter impersonation is very rare but claimed that doesn’t matter–the law is justified even if it stops some of those very rare cases so as to increase the public’s trust in the process. (though we needn’t consider even for one moment whether potential effects of disenfranchisement might
    — When asked for examples of voter impersonation fraud problems referred to a single alleged case in which another politician in PA testified that someone else had already voted using his name in one election when he arrived at the polls. Also referred to a case involving problems with absentee ballots without acknowledging that the case was about absentee ballots. The reporter fortunately interrupted saying he had covered that story and was very familiar with it and that it had nothing to do with the kind of fraud impersonation fraud which the bill is primarily about. (The bill does change some things about absentee ballots too, but changes had *already* been made in response to the that case.) He offered no other evidence whatsoever that this is actually happening and just kept repeating that it doesn’t matter if it happens only very rarely–even once is too much.
    — Asked about the issue of whether the law will end up leading to some people who are legitimately eligible to vote being unable to do so because they cannot easily obtain ID. Answer: No, 100% not true. Not going to happen. (No explanation of how he knows this to be the case.)
    — Reporter mentions a specific case that hit the media of an elderly woman whose name had changed multiple times and couldn’t obtain a birth certificate in order to get an ID because she couldn’t prove she was that person. The sponsor’s response: that the woman apparently is lying because it is just not true that cases like that exist.
    — When asked about the comment (made by another republican legislator) about the law giving Romney PA suddenly the uncertainty about how often voter impersonation fraud happens went away and he suddenly became very, very certain about how often such fraud happens–constantly. It is happening so often and it is so widespread that it is the only reason that democratic candidates in presidential races have won PA in all the recent presidential elections. (I can’t imagine what evidence the sponsor came upon during the interview which led him to go from completely uncertain about how much voter impersonation fraud occurs to knowing that it is so massive and widespread that over 10% of all votes cast in PA in the 2008 election were impersonated votes. That, after all, is how much fraud would have had to occur in order for impersonation fraud to be what allowed Obama to win in 2008.)
    — Reporter asks for evidence for the claim that democrats have been involved in massive voter impersonation fraud schemes for years and years stealing elections time and time again in PA. Answer: we don’t need evidence, we know it is happening.

    Now if this were the argument a freshman philosophy student made in favor of or against some philosophical view, what grade would they be getting? Hmm.
    1) Inconsistent claims made throughout the interview–sometimes claiming voter impersonation fraud is rare, sometimes claiming it is constant and massive.
    2) Equivocates when offering supposed evidence of the problem by sneakily offering evidence of other kinds of voter fraud without acknowledging that that sort of fraud has already been dealt with legally in other ways.
    3) Offers no evidence for completely outlandish empirical claims that over 10% of all votes in PA in 2008 were impersonated votes, even as people who are actually experts in the area (like the professor of voting and election history who was interviewed on NPR immediately after) insist that it is not possible that such claims could be true. 4) Refuses to even consider objections to the view–simply accuses opponents of being liars.

    Sad that we require more from a random 18 year old writing about brains in vats in intro philosophy than an elected official on an issue that actually potentially affects the ability of vulnerable people to vote.

  12. philodaria,

    I have no idea whether shark attacks are more common than successfully detected voter fraud (much less currently undetected voter fraud – since voter fraud can be hard to detect and, even if detected, hard to prosecute). But let’s assume it’s true. You are saying that we take great efforts to prevent voter fraud notwithstanding that it is rarer than shark attacks, correct? Of course, I’m not sure most people would characterize adding a voter ID requirement as going to great lengths. But sharks attacks do not strike me as the sort of thing that the public trust demands that the state be responsible for suppressing in any material way. And for the reasons I described before, the significance of voter fraud has a qualitative as well as a quantitative dimension.

    More importantly, I’m not sure if we have good reason any longer to suppose that voter ID laws actually would be responsible for voter disenfranchisement, since those claims have always fallen apart under cross-examination (see, e.g., Justice Stevens’ bench-slap to the proponents of those arguments in the Indiana voter ID case, and similar outcomes in other cases). I don’t mean to suggest that new life couldn’t be breathed into such arguments through a new discovery or evidence — which could be provided by the upcoming elections — but can we at least stop speaking of the “voter ID laws = disenfranchisement” claim as though it were in the prime of health?

    Anyway, in case anyone missed today’s timely opinion piece from the husband-and-wife team of Harvard’s Stephan Thernstrom and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ Abigail Thernstrom:


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