Barely noticed in the crush of attention paid to the Crawford v. Marion County Election Board case was coverage of what we think may be an emerging strategy to vilify Election Day Registration by using the same cries of voter fraud that typify arguments for voter ID laws.
This blatantly political connection between one election law that is being considered by the Supreme Court for voter disenfranchisement and another law that provides all eligible citizens the opportunity to exercise their given right as Americans, makes the Crawford case even more important for determining who can and cannot vote in future elections across the United States starting this November. Ultimately, the only similarity between the two laws is that low income, young, minority and elderly voters are affected, whether it means enfranchising or disenfranchising them.
To contrast, let's review the week in op-ed news regarding the nation's most controversial election administration case which was heard in the Supreme Court last week:
Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita and Crawford case defendant wrote in this Indianapolis Star op-ed that “the court quickly cut through the politics that brought the case there and asked profound questions on both sides of the issue. From the advocacy presented, it was evident that this common-sense law was designed to prevent vote fraud and thereby improve the overall confidence in our election process.”
Contrary to Rokita, Adam Cohen of the New York Times called it “an abandonment of voters” if the high court favors the Indiana law, pointing out that “restrictions on voting are subject to heightened constitutional scrutiny, and the state cannot justify the enormous burdens the law imposes.” Cohen further emphasized that “there is no evidence that in-person vote fraud has ever occurred in the state, but there is considerable evidence that voters will be disenfranchised. Indiana could have deterred fraud in less harmful ways, including by accepting a wider range of ID’s.”
A reader and former supporter of voter ID laws illustrated the perils of a voter without proper identification in this letter to the Indianapolis Star. The reader's “politically active 83-year-old mother” endured “100 miles of driving, hours on the phone, and several weeks to provide the same security against voter fraud that a simple signature would have offered.” Although the elderly woman now has proper identification to vote, it is safe to assume that such perseverance is a rarity among most others who would face such barriers.
As a prelude to what may happen if the Supreme Court upholds Crawford v. Marion, new voter ID legislation is being introduced in several states monitored by Project Vote's election bill tracking website, ElectionLegislation.org, most recently in Oklahoma.
In an effort contrasting sharply with efforts to restrict access, a Trinity College political science professor wrote this opinion piece, calling for the “resurrection” of Election Day Registration, or "EDR" legislation as a means of protecting the voting rights of “more than 900,000 Connecticut voters." These voters, "may forfeit their right to participate in the nomination of our next president” because of the state's lack of “Election Day registration and its primaries are closed to unaffiliated voters,” the professor, Clyde D. Mckee Jr. wrote in the Hartford Courant.
McKee gave a confusing list of dates by which unregistered, eligible voters must have their applications processed in order to vote in the February 5 primary, an obstacle course that has proven to be a recipe for failure, he said. The solution he offered was to implement EDR so that “voters who become interested in the election late in a campaign are not disenfranchised because, even if they arrive at the polls on Election Day, they can still participate.” Recalling a failed “comprehensive” EDR bill “that addressed issues such as voter fraud,” McKee hopes to find it “resurrected in the session beginning next month.”
Since the early 1970s, eight states have passed EDR laws (ID, IA, ME, MN, NH, ME, MN, MT) and one (NC) has enacted “same day registration” at its early voting sites, according to Demos, a nonpartisan public policy research and advocacy organization. In the 2004 presidential election, voter turnout in EDR states averaged 12 percentage points above non-EDR states.
“EDR can be particularly effective at raising turnout among young adults, newly naturalized citizens, people of color, and those with lower incomes and levels of educational achievement,” according to Demos, highlighting the advantages of EDR for the very same groups affected by voter ID laws.
In keeping with the “election integrity” trend of limiting ballot access, a proposal to eliminate Wisconsin's EDR practice received its first hearing last week. Bill sponsor, Assemblywoman Suzanne Jeskewitz (R-24), said it “creates more work for clerks and allows for voter fraud,” according to this WQOW report Wednesday. Eau Claire County, Wisc. Clerk Janet Loomis told WQOW that “taking away same-day registration could reduce turnout.” In Eau Claire alone, voter turnout expanded by 10,000 in the 2004 presidential election, the report said.
Election Day registration has been a practice in Wisc. since the 1970s and has rarely, if ever, been subject to voter fraud, according to a recent Demos survey of election officials in EDR states. “Just one of 49 respondents suggested a link between EDR and an increased likelihood of vote fraud. (This official, the clerk of a Wisconsin town of fewer than 9,000 people, was also unique in expressing emphatic opposition to EDR),” Demos reported. “A number of respondents took the position that EDR had actually reduced the risk of fraud. Several agreed with the deputy town clerk in New Hampshire who said that her staff could process voter registrations with greater accuracy after Election Day than in the hectic pre-Election Day period, when the labor was more likely to be performed by temp workers or by in-house staff working overtime.”