Hardly anyone noticed last spring when Jon Husted, the Republican Secretary of State in Ohio, issued a report on the 2012 election. Out of 5.63 million ballots cast in that state, he identified 135 possible cases of voter fraud.
Those aren’t proven cases, just possible. Even so, that comes to a maximum fraud rate of .002397 percent, or one case for every 41,704 voters. The real rate is probably much lower, since allegations of fraud “almost always prove to be inflated or inaccurate,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School.
These figures show once again an undeniable fact. Election fraud is not — repeat not — a significant problem in this country. As the Brennan Center, which tracks the issue closely, puts it: “Voter fraud — votes knowingly cast by ineligible individuals — is exceedingly rare; one is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud.”
And yet Republican governors and legislators refuse to recognize this reality. In the name of combatting a nonexistent problem, they continue to pass laws that make it harder for citizens to vote.
But then the pretext of voter fraud is, well, just a fraud. The real reason for these laws is completely obvious. Republicans want to limit the impact of groups that tend to vote for Democrats: the young, the poor, and racial minorities.
During last fall’s election, a Republican official in Pennsylvania admitted what Al Gore might call an “inconvenient truth”: Election law changes had one goal — electing Mitt Romney president. Steve Schmidt, a former strategist for John McCain, made the same point on MSNBC: “Voting fraud … doesn’t really exist when you look deeply at the question. It’s part of the mythology now in the Republican Party that there’s widespread voter fraud across the country. In fact, there’s not.”
That’s why it was so important for Attorney General Eric Holder to file suit against a package of laws signed in August by North Carolina’s Republican governor, Pat McCrory. One law requires voters to show a photo ID. Others shorten the period for early voting by a week, end same-day registration, and reject any ballots that are cast in the wrong polling place.
For close to 50 years, seven states and parts of four others, including North Carolina, were covered by the Voting Rights Act and had to pre-clear changes in election law with the Justice Department or a federal court. But after the Supreme Court threw out the “pre-clearance” provision last spring, North Carolina was one of several states that moved quickly to enact new restrictions.
The court, however, kept intact a separate section of the act that allows Justice to challenge voting rules that deliberately discriminate based on race. Intentional bias is hard to prove, but Holder insists the Feds can meet the test.
“The Justice Department,” he said, “expects to show that the clear and intended effects of these changes would contract the electorate and result in unequal access to participation in the political process on account of race.”
Statistics reinforce Holder’s claim. Blacks comprise 22 percent of the North Carolina electorate but 34 percent of those without government-issued IDs. They also account for 41 percent of voters who used same-day registration, and 29 percent of early voters.
A case can be made for a photo ID rule, as long as the rule is reasonable. (Texas’ law, for example, is not reasonable, since a gun permit counts but a student ID does not.) But there is absolutely no connection between preventing fraud and limiting early voting days. Or ending same-day registration.
Dale Ho of the American Civil Liberties Union is completely correct in telling USA Today, “North Carolina is engaging in a blatant attempt to make it harder for hundreds of thousands of eligible voters to cast a ballot.”
In recent years, Republicans have out-worked Democrats on governor and state legislative races, and as a result they’ve been able to draw favorable Congressional districts that maximize their political leverage. Democratic House candidates won about 1.3 million more votes than their Republican opponents last year, but the GOP still captured a 33-seat majority. Their ability to shut down the government is a direct result of their shrewd strategy.
Winning elections, however, does not give the majority absolute power. They should not be able to use their victories to undermine democracy and restrict the right to vote. That’s unfair and un-American. But that’s precisely what Republicans are doing in North Carolina, and the courts should stop them.
Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.