Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Having the Right People Vote: A When They Make Me Tsar© Solution

I suspect I’m not the only one who has managed to allow some important item received in the mail—a bill, a reminder to take the cat to the vet, a jury summons—to find its way to the bottom of the stack of detritus on some table. It happened to me recently: I ended up calling my bank because I hadn’t received my new debit card, and the old one is due to expire this month. The nice woman I talked to suggested I check the stack of mail on the kitchen table (she didn’t know it was the kitchen table, but I did) again before contacting them again if the card wasn’t there. Sure enough, there it was.

This episode becomes relevant because my adopted state of Texas appears to be next in line to purge the voting rolls. And, if the example of Florida holds true, my chances of being disenfranchised increase dramatically because I’m registered as a Democrat. (I’d always registered Independent prior to the last couple of years, but there’s nothing like the Texas Republican Party to turn any sane person into a card-carrying Democrat.) And I was born in New Hampshire, making me a Yankee, which around here is about two steps worse than a Mexican. So I’d better keep my eyes open for that official document that accuses me of being a non-citizen and gives me a month to prove otherwise or I’ll be dropped from the voting list.

As for Florida, well, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, but amidst all the bluster and the lawsuits and the counter-suits, a few things are clear. First, Governor Rick Scott set a priority on disenfranchising a lot of people who had been voting. A disproportionate number of those people, shock of shocks, were minorities and/or Democrats. Ari Berman of Rolling Stone writes, “Florida Hispanics, who voted 57 percent for Obama in 2008, are only 13 percent of the state's electorate but make up 58 percent of the non-citizens list. Whites, by contrast, account for 68 percent of registered Florida voters but only 13 percent of alleged non-citizens. Democrats outnumber Republicans on the list by two to one.” Scott, in other words, has precisely zero credibility on this issue.

Side note: during the 2008 election, I had exactly two students tell me they had to verify something about their registration status or they’d be stricken from the voting rolls. Both are African-American males; both are registered Democrats. Ours is, for better or worse, a largely Caucasian progam; there were only about five black guys in the department. So we’re talking perhaps 40% of the black male population got this kind of notification. I can’t say that none of the 90+% of our students who are white weren’t notified of some “irregularity” that would have to be fixed before they could vote, but I never heard of any. This happened, of course, in Rick Perry’s Texas. Coincidence? Perhaps. The sample pool is pretty small. But if I were a betting man…

Remember, too, that these procedures are all about red tape. Just as insurance companies wear you down by making you file the same form repeatedly to collect your perfectly justifiable claim, so do bureaucrats make the citizen pay for government corruptness and/or incompetence. One more trip to city hall, one more legalistic form to be filled out and sent in, one more copy of your birth certificate from across the country to be ordered (and paid for)… there comes a time when getting to vote, to be the person who makes the election decided by 114,273 votes instead of 114,272 or 114,274, just doesn’t seem worth it. And there are far too many on the right who think that’s just fine.

That said, the most intriguing sentence in all the coverage I’ve read is this one, from Judd Legum of the reliably leftie Think Progress: “In short, an excess of 20 percent of the voters flagged as “non-citizens” in Miami-Dade are, in fact, citizens.” The article explains that, as of the time of the writing, 385 of 1638 people, or about 23.5%%, of those identified as ineligible to vote because they aren’t citizens have already demonstrated their citizenship. That suggests a completely unacceptable level of governmental sloppiness.

OK, but those numbers could also be interpreted as follows: “over 76% of those challenged have thus far failed to demonstrate American citizenship.” Ay, there’s the rub. I think we can take as given the fact that somewhere in that 76% is someone who just hasn’t yet submitted the appropriate documentation. But it’s not too big of a stretch to suggest that perhaps there are a few folks in that 76% who haven’t submitted proof of citizenship because they can’t. And there are far too many on the left who think that continuing these people on registration lists is perfectly acceptable. James O’Keefe may be a lying weasel, but you may recall, Gentle Reader, that my last piece about him suggested that the real problem with his campaign against voter fraud is that his mendacity obscured the fact that he sort of has a point.

This all boils down to a simple illustration: if someone named Carlos Martinez, a registered Democrat, shows up to vote, too many Republicans want to say “no,” and too many Democrats want to say “yes.” The correct answer, of course, is “yes, if…”: if you’re a citizen, if you’re registered in this district and nowhere else, if you have some sort of reasonable proof that you are who you say you are.

Which brings us to another GOP initiative, requiring a photo ID to vote. Such a hurdle seems to me to fall far short of “suppression,” and the integrity of the democratic system really is important. But it is also true that people without what is now considered sufficient identification, like those removed from the voting lists, are disproportionately poor, urban, and minorities. Funny thing: it’s the GOP who have their collective skivvies in a twist about the need for photo ID. Democrats argue that the number of allegations, let alone convictions, of voter fraud is infinitesimal. They’re right. But this is like the kind of cheating that happens on the SAT: it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that incidents are anything but isolated, even if a specific accusation against a specific person for a specific crime may be difficult to demonstrate.

What to do, then, given the fact that the ACLU’s and the Justice Department’s suits against Florida (for violating federal voter registration laws) and Florida’s suit against the Department of Homeland Security (for not cooperating in identifying non-citizens) all probably have merit?

Well, here’s what should happen, independent of what relevant laws say. The following analysis brought to you by When They Make Me Tsar©.

1. We need to establish some system of presumption. You can’t register to vote unless you can prove citizenship; once registered, however, the government must prove you should be removed. None of this reliance on motor vehicle registrations or jury exemption lists: they’re notoriously unreliable. And the presumption rests always with the status quo. Once you’re registered, the burden of proof shifts to the government to demonstrate to a high standard of proof that you shouldn’t be.

2. This does not mean, however, that states should not be diligent. The federal authorities, whoever is in charge, need to cooperate with state authorities, whoever is in charge. It is a reasonable expectation that the federal government should do the majority of the heavy lifting on matters concerning citizenship. So, do it, feds.

3. Penalties for voter fraud need to be severe. Federal felony level severe. Penalties for vote suppression ought to actually happen.

4. A system for establishing the identity and legitimacy of voters needs to be established. With absentee balloting, voting by mail, etc., this becomes more complicated, but it’s not an insurmountable problem. As regards increased demand for appropriate identification, perhaps requiring a photo ID: yes, by all means, if and only if there is a full-scale, well-funded campaign to make sure that prospective voters know not only that the laws have changed, but how they’ve changed, and how to secure, without undue hassle, a legally sufficient, free, identification card. They need to know, too, that (for example) a Social Security card might work in one state, but you need a photo ID in another. Ideally, there would be a federal statute that certain forms of ID are always sufficient: driver’s license, passport, military or Veterans Administration ID, that kind of thing; states could add other means of acceptable identification but must honor those.

Above all, no, you shouldn’t be offered an ID for $28 when you can get one for free (indeed, charging for such an ID would be illegal), and no, you shouldn’t be fired for telling people that they don’t need to pay. Indeed, the person doing the firing in that situation should be the one out of work in a heartbeat.

And as for those who are too willing to disenfranchise legitimate voters or to defend illegitimate ones:

5. A plague o’ both your houses.


HM Pope said...

NH did pass a voter ID bill, but it has the option (for those folks without acceptable ID) of the voter signing an affidavit and having their photo taken (or no photo if you also swear that is against your religion). The state will then send a letter to your home after the election, which you must respond to within 60 days. And, when they take the photo, it is printed out and immediately thereafter deleted from the camera.
I read the bill, and could not find any hidden voter-suppression measures in it, so I think our Senate may have finally cracked this nut (although Herr O'Brien is no doubt livid at being out-maneuvered on his attempt at suppressing the student vote).

Anonymous said...

Could be worse. They could be purging your name from the deceased voters list.