As Columbia University journalism professor Thomas B. Edsall recently pointed out in a New York Times column, when Pennsylvania’s governor signed the bill into law this spring, he implied it would clean up what is presumably the mess of voter fraud.
“I am signing this bill because it protects a sacred principle, one shared by every citizen of this nation. That principle is: one person, one vote,’’ Gov. Tom Corbett said on March 14. “It sets a simple and clear standard to protect the integrity of our elections.”
So, asks a Pennsylvania state court, what precisely is in need of protection at Keystone State ballot boxes?
The answer from state attorneys defending the law is: Eh, nothing really.
“The Parties are not aware of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania and do not have direct personal knowledge of in-person voter fraud elsewhere. Respondents will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania or elsewhere,” the attorneys told the court.
That was then. What about now?
“Respondents will not offer any evidence that in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the Photo ID law,” came the response from the state’s legal team.
Pennsylvania is not an outlier, either.
Instances of voter fraud are rarer than cases of people being struck by lightning.
So, why all the fuss? How have more than 30 states — all but one controlled by Republicans — tightened voter-ID laws in the past four years?
The answer is the supremacy of Republican messaging, a skill that gives Republicans a distinct advantage over their Democratic rivals. Recall that Republicans have convinced a sizeable portion of their base to (a.) distrust the scientific consensus on climate change; (b.) question the authenticity of Barack Obama’s citizenship and religious faith; and (c.) prefer a dog-eat-dog health-care system over modest reforms that seek to control costs and cover more Americans.
Under this cloud, it’s taken as gospel by supporters of voter-suppression laws that thousands of cases of voter fraud are occurring across the United States.
“Our Founders’ faith in the viability of representative democracy rested on their trust in the wisdom of a well-informed citizenry, their ingenious design for checks and balances, and their belief that the rule of reason is the natural sovereign of a free people,” writes Al Gore in his 2007 book The Assault on Reason. “The Founders took great care to protect the openness of the marketplace of ideas so that knowledge could flow freely.”
The voter-ID laws in question here will do very real damage to the founding ideal of a representative democracy by likely suppressing the votes of many of those at the bottom of the ladder.
Another casualty is the public’s ability to honestly assess our public issues without the noise of channels of disinformation.