As I wrote earlier this month, the decision of Attorney General Eric Holder to sue to stop Texas’s voter ID law has little to do with an attempt to prevent actual discrimination. The outcry from the administration on the voter ID issue as well as the manufactured outrage about the Supreme Court’s decision upholding but modifying the Voting Rights Act is predicated on the false idea that these measures are a new version of discriminatory Jim Crow laws. Given the night-and-day difference between the world of Jim Crow that drew Americans to the 1963 March on Washington and the America of 2013, this is an obvious effort to both revive flagging interest in civil-rights organizations and to brand President Obama’s critics as racists. But opponents of voter ID do have one seemingly rational argument: the problem that voter ID laws seek to solve—preserving the integrity of the vote—is imaginary. To that end, they have told us ad nauseum that voter fraud does not exist in the United States.
The assumption that voter fraud is nonexistent requires us to not only ignore most of American political history; it also obligates us to forget everything we know about human nature. Given that photo ID is now required for virtually every sort of transaction or service, most Americans rightly see it as a commonsense measure. But discussions about shady elections don’t require us to explore the distant past. Examples abound in our own day that place the desire to tighten up new rules that more or less allow anyone to show up on Election Day without proof of their identity or having previously registered, or to vote early or get an absentee ballot in a different context than Holder’s specious arguments about Jim Crow. One such comes from the bankrupt city of Detroit, where the August 6 primary is still unresolved due to the fact that more than 20,000 write-in votes are currently in dispute and may or may not be counted depending on the decisions of the courts. Fraud has not yet been proved and may not be directly related to false identity, but this latest instance of electoral hijinks illustrates what happens when results are called into question by shady practices.
The struggle to be the top official in an insolvent city whose government has been taken over the state is not the most compelling political fight of the year. But regardless of the office’s value, those who voted deserve to have their ballots counted. Indeed, though few if any Americans are denied the right to vote today the way many were prevented from going to the polls under Jim Crow, a crooked election is, in effect, one that denies the franchise to everyone.
Regardless of whether those who showed up to cast write-ins did so legally or of the political motivations of those who threw those ballots out due to technicalities, the nationwide drive to police elections is based in fact, not prejudice. In an era when safeguards against fraud have been thrown out willy-nilly in order to make it easier to vote via early voting, liberal granting of absentee ballots, and same-day registration, it has become almost impossible to guarantee the integrity of the results. To think that politicians and parties do not try to take advantage of this situation is hopelessly naïve. Reforming this situation requires states to make sure that those who vote are who they say they are and that regulations that prevent safeguards from being put in place are re-written to ensure the integrity of the process.
No matter who gets the dubious honor of running Detroit, voters there have a right to know their votes are counted and not being cancelled out by fraud of any kind. The same is true in Texas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and every other state that has attempted to deal with this mess. Instead of crying racism, those entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that voting rights are protected should be seeking to uphold the obligation of the state to stop cheating.