The greater threat to ballot box

There have been some blatant and indefensible voter-registration violations committed by people acting on behalf of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). But the greater threat to preserving the integrity of the ballot box on Nov. 4 is voter suppression.

“The claim that voter fraud threatens the integrity of American elections is itself a fraud,” concluded a report by Project Vote, a nonpartisan voter participation organization. Authored by Lorraine C. Minnite, an assistant political science professor at Barnard College, the report stated: “The exaggerated fear of voter fraud has a long history of scuttling efforts to make voting easier and more inclusive, especially for marginalized groups in American society.”

Ohio was a voter-fraud battleground four years ago, and it is again this year. A week ago, a federal appeals court in Cincinnati threw out an Ohio Republican Party lawsuit seeking to force Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to develop additional means of verifying the eligibility of newly registered voters.

Both major political parties have engaged in voter suppression at different periods in history. For example, Democrats sought to minimize the political impact of newly freed blacks during the Reconstruction Era. In recent years, many Republican organizations have tried to neutralize the black vote by challenging the voting eligibility of blacks, especially in Florida and Ohio.

One suppression tactic emerged in Philadelphia recently. Fliers appeared on the Drexel University campus and elsewhere falsely warning that voters would be arrested at the polls for outstanding traffic warrants.

Voter suppression is engineered through a variety of tactics, most frequently purging the names of registered voters. According to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, 39 states and the District of Columbia reported purging more than 13 million voters from the rolls between 2004 and 2006.

Perils of purging

Voting records should be updated to protect the integrity of the process. But the purging process is often conducted improperly.

“Over the past several years, every purge list the Brennan Center has reviewed has been flawed,” the center's report says. “In 2004, for example, Florida planned to remove 48,000 ‘suspected felons' from its voter rolls. Many of those identified were in fact eligible to vote.

The report included other questionable examples:

In Mississippi this year, a local election official wrongly purged 10,000 voters from her home computer a week before the presidential primary.

Louisiana officials purged 21,000 voters, many of them affected by hurricanes, ostensibly for registering in another state. Some had never registered elsewhere.

Politics often figure into decisions to remove voters from the rolls. Federal prosecutors such as Iglesias were under pressure to bring voter-fraud cases that many believe would have benefited Republicans. Iglesias set up a voter-fraud unit, but he concluded there were no cases he could prove beyond a reasonable doubt. After he failed to pursue the cases, he was fired.

The problem appears to be widespread. The New York Times recently conducted an investigation that showed tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law.

The Times report noted, “Because Democrats have been more aggressive at registering new voters this year, according to state election officials, any heightened screening of new applications may affect their party's supporters disproportionately.”

In some states, for every voter added to the rolls in the last two months, two voters have been removed, the newspaper noted.

That's no way to expand our democracy.