By Erin Ferns
This an entry in a series of blogs to keep people informed on current election reform and voting rights issues in the news.
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Despite the recent upsurge of news reports uncloaking the phantom issue of voter fraud, Wisconsin's Assembly is still determined to fight it. Tuesday, the Republican-dominated assembly adopted AJR 17, a bill requiring photo ID to vote and register on Election Day, according to a Wednesday printing of this Associated Press story. The bill is designed to safeguard against voter fraud, but such legislation has been shown to suppress voter turnout and addresses a problem that, as shown by the news reports linked above and a study released by Project Vote in March , simply does not exist.
Monday, a column in the Wisconsin State Journal discussed the state Elections Board report last week that discovered 82 felons may have voted in the 2006 election out of 2.16 million total voters. This amounts to a fraction of a fraction of 1% in illegal votes.
“As more information becomes available about the administration's priority on combating alleged, but not well substantiated, voter fraud, the more apparent it is that its actions concerning voter ID laws are part of a partisan strategy to suppress the votes of poor and minority citizens,” said former chief of the Voting Section in the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division Joe Rich in Thursday's McClatchy Newspapers report on the Bush Administration's use of the DOJ to restrict voter turnout in favor of the GOP.
U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic is finding himself in hot water as one of the U.S. Attorneys that didn't get the ax, but rather, critics, say, had a partisan ax to grind. Recent reports have speculated that he was spared his job while other prosecutors reportedly lost their jobs in part for not pursuing voter fraud cases. Biskupic and his staff vigorously examined potential voter fraud violations in Wisconsin based on 2004 voting records. Fourteen were charged with violations, most of whom were “black, poor, Democratic and first-time voters,” according to the April 12 issue of the New York Times.
Milwaukee resident Kimberly Prude has been jailed for more than a year for a voter fraud conviction, after she unknowingly voted illegally while on probation for trying to cash a counterfeit county government check , as reported the Times. Prude did not realize her mistake until her probation officer later informed her, at which point she called City Hall to rescind her vote. She was told that measure was unnecessary, yet she received a felony conviction for voting as a former felon in Wisconsin. At Prude's hearing, Judge Diane P. Wood of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago said, “I find this whole prosecution mysterious...I don't know whether the Eastern District of Wisconsin goes after every felon who accidentally votes. It is not like she voted five times. She cast one vote.”
Voter ID and felon disenfranchisement laws are disproportionately affecting the voting rights of minority and low income citizens. Laws that create barriers to voting must prove that they are not hindering more legally eligible citizens from voting than they are catching ineligible voters. In the case of Kimberly Prude and even citizens without criminal records, the existence of voter fraud is shaky at best.
Further, a recent Brennan Center for Justice survey found 11% of Americans do not have government-issued photo ID. This amounts to more than 21 million citizens who face a government-imposed barrier to voting.
Rather than focusing on the non-existent issue of voter fraud, Wisconsin’s Assembly would be better advised to spend some time restoring the voting rights of people in the criminal justice system, in which people of color and low-income people disproportionately represented. It could follow the lead of Florida, which recently proposed a policy change that could restore the rights of nearly one million potential voters in a region well-known for its long history of voter suppression activities.
“Six out of 10 states with the highest percentage of their population disenfranchised [for felony convictions] are in the American southeast (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Virginia). In those six states, Blacks are some 21% of the population but 40% of the states' disenfranchised population,” according to yesterday's posting on Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters.
By this time, it should be clear that voter fraud is simply a canard pushed by partisan interests more concerned with suppressing the vote of constituencies they dislike rather than with the integrity of elections in the United States. Indeed, it is increasingly clear that they have subverted the very machinery of federal law enforcement to this end.
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