Prior to the 2012 elections, I found myself in a discussion with a colleague concerning Republican efforts at what has come to be known as "voter suppression." I was informing this person, who is well educated, that voter fraud is not a problem of any significance in the U.S.A. This individual rejected my contention, arguing that he was aware of countless examples of alleged fraud and that the efforts to make voting more difficult were justified.
A fascinating article in Mother Jones from July 2012, which I only just discovered, contains the sorts of ammunition that is needed in this debate, ammunition that really can not only end the argument but open up the real question: Why are the Republicans trying to make it more difficult to vote?
The article, by Hamed Aleaziz, Dave Gilson and Jaeah Lee ["UFO Sightings are more common than voter fraud"] contains this little factoid at the end: Between 2000 and 2010 there were 649 million votes cast in general elections; 47,000 UFO sightings; 441 Americans killed by lightning; and 13 credible cases of in-person voter impersonation.
How is it possible that with no evidence of massive voter fraud that legislators around the nation have moved to narrow voting? The answer, to a great extent, has to do with race. First, the people making the allegations tend to be White and rich. They are playing into the growing fears among many average Whites that the U.S. is becoming a Black and Brown nation, and, to be honest, they are scared. Many of them still cannot understand how it was that a Black man became president of the United States.
Second, the criminalization of Black America and the assumption that we are up to no good – as demonstrated most recently in the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin – opens up the door to the belief that African Americans are somehow involved in trickery and voter fraud. We do not have to have ever done anything. It is more about what many Whites believe that we are capable of doing that matters.
Yet voter suppression, which is not going away, is about more than the antipathy of many rich Whites for Black people. The voter suppression laws are not aimed solely at African Americans. They remain part of the larger scheme to neutralize the growing majority in this country, a majority of people of color, youth, women and working people, that threatens the privileges of the rich and (in-)famous. Thus, we not only have voter suppression but we have gerrymandering of electoral districts to ensure that certain districts remain in the hands of Republicans and that cross-racial political coalitions are less likely to be built.
The issue of voter suppression not only remains critical, but will especially be so in the 2014 elections. Being mid-term elections, turnout tis always lower than in presidential years under the best of circumstances. If you add to that the great difficulties that the average voter can anticipate in voting, the situation goes from bad to worse. This means that voting rights activists will have important challenges that include:
-- Voter registration
-- Ensuring that the voters have the proper documents
-- Constructing monitoring and protection mechanism to guarantee our rights and
-- Helping to bring forward compelling candidates who speak to the issues of the grassroots and, thereby, encourage greater turnout.
To this we should add one more task. Each time that you encounter an elected official who suggests that greater efforts need to be taken to stop alleged voter fraud, please ask them to provide you with documented evidence of a pattern of abuse. Please ask them to provide you with documented numbers. Please ask them to provide you with proof of convictions.
And, if they cannot provide any of this, please ask them to shut their trap.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author or "They're Bankrupting Us" – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.