The Republican Party and conservative movement (if one is even able to separate the two), have consistently propagated the idea that voter fraud is rampant in the United States. This claim is false, and constructed purely out of a desire to limit the ability of people to vote. By claiming rampant voter fraud is perpetrated by supporters of their opponents, conservatives simultaneously delegitimize their opposition and justify their restriction of voting rights. Progressives need to fight back against the organized conservative effort to disenfranchise voters, under the aegis of systemic voter fraud, by labeling the conservative disenfranchisement as the true voter fraud.
Modern American conservatives often seek to limit the right to vote, particularly among specific demographics, because it is politically beneficial to them. Research shows that, in the United States, the smaller the voter turnout, the more likely that the conservative movement will elect their candidates. Through condensing the voting electorate into a group which disproportionately supports their interests, the conservative movement is able to capture far larger portions of the country than they would if voting were universal. In order to condense the vote, conservatives in power enact voting restrictions that disproportionately target specific demographics.
The demographic groups that are under particular threat from right wing voting rights attacks are virtually always those that support democrats. Young, minority, and poor Americans are three of the largest demographic groups that disproportionately support Democrats and progressives. As such, these are the groups which suffer the most by conservative restrictions to voting rights.
There are four major tactics which the conservative movement utilizes to disenfranchise left-leaning demographic groups:
- Voter Identification Requirements:
By requiring a type of identification not usually held by certain demographics, politicians can disenfranchise specific groups of voters. Members of different demographic groups have different likelihoods of carrying different types of identification. For example: young voters living in an urban environment are far less likely to carry driver’s licenses than middle-aged voters living in the suburbs. By identifying the types of identification that are statistically more likely to be carried by friendly demographics and less likely to be carried by unfriendly demographics, politicians can game the voter-ID requirements to benefit their own party.
Conservative-leaning demographics are statistically more likely to have state driver’s licenses, weapons permits, and state identification cards than progressive leaning demographics. As they benefit electorally when these identification forms are the only ones allowed, conservative legislators virtually always attempt to make these ID types the only ones allowed at the voting booth.
Progressive-leaning demographics are statistically far more likely to have college identification or no identification than conservative demographics. Conservatives often attempt to disenfranchise those who have no ID, as well as rendering any college identification invalid as proof of voting eligibility. The removal of college identification particularly harms out of state students, a reliably progressive voting demographic.
- Restricting the time and locations of voting:
Republican legislators utilize the tactic of selectively reducing the times and places where citizens can legally vote in order to shrink the voting population. If fewer people are able to vote, or voting becomes too inconvenient for many people, then the voting pool can be shrunk without any overt disenfranchisement.
Through the closing of voting locations, or the undersupplying of these locations with voting stations, conservative officials can significantly affect the vote. By reducing the effective number of voting stations in minority, poor, and liberal communities, Republicans can create huge jams on voting day and convince many to simply go home. As voting day is not a holiday in the United States, long wait times at the polls are particularly damaging to poor workers who are unable to get significant amounts of time off.
By reducing early voting and absentee voting, conservatives are able to reduce the minority and elderly populations which vote in elections. African American churches have adopted the effective and socially beneficial practice of organizing voting drives during the Sunday before elections; through their prominent connection to their community, they are able to
- Attacking voter registration:
Conservative groups regularly attack the funding and increase the regulations limiting voting registration organizations. Common tactics used to attack these groups include: limiting the time for forms to be passed in, increasing fines levied against these organization, and attacking the funding of such organizations. As we saw with the organization Acorn, these tactics are often very effective and can result in the defunding and disassembling of entire voter registration organizations.
Through destroying voter registration organizations, particularly ones targeting minorities and young students, conservatives can reduce the number of registered voter who are likely to vote democratic. Functionally speaking, reducing the number of registered voters is identical to obstructing them at the polls or purging them from the rolls, thus attacking voter registration organizations is as effective as directly disenfranchising voters at the polls.
- “Voter purges”:
Voter purges are sometimes used by conservatives to disenfranchise large numbers of democratic leaning voters. These purges are the most direct form of voter suppression that we have seen since the days of Jim Crow: voters are simply taken off of the voting rolls under that aegis that they are not legitimate voters; oftentimes these purges are justified through the assertion that those purged are felons (without voting rights), illegal residents, or simply people who have moved (determined through mailers that must be returned to remain on the rolls).
The most egregious examples of modern partisan voter purges can be found in the state of Florida during the lead ups to the 2000 and 2012 elections. In both cases, the Republican legislature enacted stringent voter purges targeted at democratic leaning demographics – purging “suspected felons” in 2000 and “suspected illegal residents” in 2012.
What Progressives Need to Do
Progressives must fight back against any and every form of voter disenfranchisement, wherever it may be proposed. In order to fight back, progressives should flip the argument of voter fraud and label the conservative attempts to disenfranchise voters to be the actual voter fraud. By making a clear case that conservative voter disenfranchising, and repeating it constantly, Democrats and progressives can simultaneously mitigate the Republican “voter fraud” talking point while attacking voter suppression legislation. This effort will need to be organized nationally, require significant party discipline in order to retain a unified message decrying conservative voter suppression attempts.
First, progressives must assess the damage caused by conservative voter disenfranchisement and compare it to the damage of suspected voter fraud.
The Department of Justice has a running list of confirmed voter fraud cases which progressives can use to disprove conservative claims of fraud. Between the years of 2002 and 2007, the DOJ reports 86# cases of voter fraud resulting in a conviction; these were the Bush years, and nobody can argue that the DOJ refused to look into voter fraud due to possible “liberal bias”.
In contrast to the low number of confirmed voter fraud cases, we a far higher number of potential voter disenfranchisement cases. In response to the 2011 Florida voter purge, over 500# individuals have already confirmed their citizenship after being purged. Extrapolating from the example of Florida to the rest of the states, we can tell that tens of thousands of voters have been potentially prevented from voting. We cannot accurately estimate the number of voters to be disenfranchised by conservative voter laws, but the numbers is clearly hundred, if not thousands of times larger than the number of people who have potentially voted illegally.
Second, progressives must contrast the harm caused by conservative’s alleged voter fraud and that caused by conservative voter disenfranchisement. Ideally, the purpose of this is to portray the conservative efforts to suppress the vote as a cure which is far worse than the disease.
If we consider the total number of eligible voters as a zero-line (100% accuracy in voting), any deviation from this number is potential “voter fraud”; people who vote illegally cause a positive deviation from the ideal point, while people to be illegally disenfranchised cause a negative deviation from the ideal point. Put plainly, every person to vote while ineligible has the very same distorting effect on the election as every person to be illegally disenfranchised. Every person to be turned away at the voting booths is a case of voting fraud by those who intentionally limited the vote. As described above, thousands of legal voters are currently facing voter disenfranchisement measures justified by the proven fraud of a few dozen people.
Progressives need to clearly make the case that voter fraud isn’t just perpetrated by those attempting to vote illegally; it is also present in cases where those who should legally be able to vote are not allowed to. Every voter to be illegally disenfranchised should be portrayed as a case of voter fraud by the legislators who attempt to rig the vote in their favor.
The conservative movement has already laid the groundwork for the claims of widespread voter fraud to be perpetrated; progressives simply need to reverse the narrative and turn it upon the conservative disenfranchising efforts. While describing the conservative voter fraud, progressives should stress that anybody can be a victim of these disenfranchisement laws, preferably while giving examples of such cases. There are numerous cases of elderly retirees and veterans being illegally disenfranchised that should be presented as examples of such fraud. By putting a human face upon the disenfranchising law’s victims (preferably a veteran or elderly long-time voter) the public will be far more likely to be mobilized against conservative efforts than if statistics are simply thrown at them.
By attacking conservative voter disenfranchisement, progressives will be able to simultaneously uphold the American democratic values and ensure increased power at the polls. In our system of close, highly partisan elections, any attempts to suppress the vote are dangerous towards democracy and cannot be tolerated. No political group should be allowed to steal the vote, regardless of whether they are voting when they aren’t allowed to or whether they are barring legal voters from exercising their right